Whether you grew up in the 1990s or have seen artifacts like Furby, Tamagotchis, many Friends episodes, beanie babies, and pictures of Blockbuster, you are aware that the decade was memorable.
Along with a resurgence in Pogs and Lisa Frank notebooks, the 1990s also saw several great novels, a lot of which were adapted into just as renowned, if not more so, movies.
What are the top 1990s books to enjoy for the very first time or even to reread to evoke fond memories? Who were the most famous writers at that time?
The 1990s were a seriously great decade for novelists and avid readers alike, and there is a huge selection of books out there if you’re interested in exploring the literature of that era.
The best novels of the 1990s are listed below, covering every genre and including cult favorites, dark academic tales, thrillers, and contentious memoirs. Let’s get going!
21 Best 1990s-Era Books
Although Irvine Welsh may be well-known in the literary world today, he was virtually unknown in the early 1990s. His first book, Trainspotting, was published in 1993, and its effects may still be felt today.
It is written in the form of a collection of short stories concerning the experiences of heroin users and the people that surround them. It has everything a novel needs to become a cult classic: darkness, roughness, and nihilism.
This is the sole book from the 1990s that was excluded from consideration for the Booker Prize because it “offended the sensitivities of two judges.”
Themes: Addiction, social class, politics, identity.
- Fantastic insight into addiction
- Dark and raw storyline
- Not suitable for younger readers
As the esteemed Pride and Prejudice was to works from the 1800s, Bridget Jones’s Diary is to works from the 1990s.
In this modern rendition, the equally endearing Lizzie Bennet-like protagonist is caught between a respectable, uncomfortable man and a mischievous, attractive man in 1990s London.
The novel, which was first released as a series of articles in The Daily Telegraph, has since sold millions of copies worldwide, given rise to two sequels, and inspired a significant movie series featuring Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth as the lead characters.
Themes: Love and relationships, self-improvement, social expectations.
- Humor and relatable characters
- Exploration of contemporary issues
- Unique diary entry format
- Lack of depth
- Limited perspective
One of the most famous books from the 1990s, Jurassic Park is situated in Costa Rica before it became more well-known as the Stephen Spielberg movie.
You are familiar with the plot: in a tropical park, long-extinct, terrible monsters are recreated using dinosaur DNA discovered in insects.
Investors are alarmed after a few employee health and safety problems, so the millionaire founder hires consultants to implement new fail-safes.
Even if you think you “know” the topic, this is a crash-course parable about genetic engineering that is well worth reading.
Themes: Adventure, genetic engineering, dystopia.
- Excellent portrayal of adventure, friendship, and the perils of genetic engineering
- Brilliantly written to keep readers on the edge of their seats
- May not be suitable for some younger readers as it can be quite scary in parts
Having Chuck Palahniuk’s most well-known book, Fight Club, on your date’s bookshelf may raise some warning flags, but it’s still undeniably among the most important ’90s works.
When Palahniuk arrived at work one day wounded and injured, his coworkers’ reactions served as inspiration.
After receiving a resounding rejection from publishers and agents for his first full-length book, Invisible Monsters, he focused on developing Fight Club into a novel.
Since then, Fight Club has come to represent toxic masculinity as well as the evolving position of men in society.
Themes: masculinity, identity, social groups.
- Unique writing style and narrative structure that challenges traditional storytelling techniques
- Themes of masculinity and consumerism that resonate with many readers
- Can be extremely violent and disturbing, which may turn off some readers
One of the greatest novels of the 1990s was the famous read; The God Of Small Things. Arundhati Roy, the author, didn’t produce another book for twenty years after that.
The fraternal twins in this family drama had their lives torn by the Keralan “Love Laws” of the 1960s. As the title says, Roy concentrates on the seemingly unimportant details that have a big impact on people’s lives.
In order to create a complex and brilliant image, Roy drew inspiration from her own Hindu and Syrian Christian ancestry, her parent’s divorce, and other facets of her own life. For this work, Roy won the Booker Prize the year it was published.
Themes: Religion, relationships, identity.
- Beautifully written prose that vividly captures the setting and characters
- Explores complex themes such as caste, family dynamics, and social inequality
- Can be emotionally taxing due to the heavy subject matter
Few books from the 1990s have garnered as much praise or controversy as Frank McCourt’s chronicle of his Irish-American upbringing, Angela’s Ashes.
Following its publication, McCourt won multiple awards such as the Boeke Prize, the National Critics Award, and also the Pulitzer Prize.
He was, however, also the target of harsh criticism for allegedly making up or embellishing his poor origins. Frank and his brother gave a spectacular performance, and McCourt’s mother famously left, calling it “all a bag of falsehoods.”
Although McCourt later acknowledged that Angela’s Ashes is “a memoir, not an accurate history,” its contested validity doesn’t appear to have diminished its ongoing appeal.
Themes: Poverty, family, identity.
- Honest and raw portrayal of the struggles of growing up in poverty in Ireland
- Memorable characters and witty humor that provide moments of levity amidst the hardship
- May be difficult to read for some due to the graphic depictions of poverty, alcoholism, and abuse
It may not seem like the top books of the 1990s would include a novel about journalistic ethics, but Janet Malcolm became such a gifted writer that she was able to make it work.
She questions journalist Joe McGinnis’ professional (and private) decisions in publishing his 1983 true crime novel Fatal Vision.
McGinnis is well known for his efforts to acquire access by establishing a rapport with the murderer, retired Special Forces officer Jeffrey R. MacDonald, plus interjecting himself into the defense strategy.
People who enjoy dark, gritty, murder novels must read this up-to-date description of the moral questions at the core of this non-fiction category.
Themes: Crime, journalism, morality.
- Provocative exploration of the ethics and power dynamics of journalism
- Masterfully written with keen insights into human nature and psychology
- Controversial in its portrayal of the relationship between journalist and subject
One of the most eerie books of the 1990s, The Virgin Suicides also served as the springboard for two extraordinary artistic careers.
The first was Jeffrey Eugenides’ first book, a work that showcases his singular knack for creating the most complex and compelling characters in modern literature.
Then, in 1999, Kirsten Dunst-starring Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of the book served as her directorial debut.
The tragic Libson sisters, who each pass away by suicide just before the book’s end, are a dark and upsetting part of the novel, but it’s nevertheless a compelling tale of a suburban horror that continues to captivate and devastate readers all over the world.
Themes: Sexuality, loneliness, growing up, loss of innocence.
- Beautifully written prose that captures the dreamy, surreal atmosphere of the story
- Exploration of themes such as adolescence, family, and suburban life that resonate with many readers
- Some readers may find the narrative structure confusing or hard to follow
Only the world-famous To Kill A Mockingbird received more votes from Americans for their favorite novel of all time than Outlander, which was first released as Cross Stitch around 1991. It must rank among the top novels of the 1990s just based on that.
Consider the fact that it has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide and, together with its sequels, is among the best-selling novel series of all time if that isn’t enough to persuade you.
Gabaldon creates a compelling narrative that spans two time frames while fusing several genres, including historical fiction, adventure, fantasy, and romance.
Themes: Love, power, sexuality, traditions and customs.
- Epic romance that spans time periods and continents
- Well-researched historical setting that immerses the reader in the world of the story
- Can be seen as overly melodramatic or formulaic
What comes to mind when you think about Manhattan at the turn of the century? American Psycho will undoubtedly blow your mind if your first image is of yuppie greed—investment bankers, fashion models, and stock exchange jockeys.
One of the most contentious books from the 1990s, which later became well-known because of the film version featuring Christian Bale as title psycho Patrick Bateman, shows the brutal and gory side of that particular microcosm of the decade.
Because of its extreme brutality (including horrifying sexualized violence), this book is still outlawed in many countries around the world. Some even go so far as to sell it shrink-wrapped.
Themes: Violence, mistaken identity, materialism.
- Excellent portrayal of mistaken identities
- Humorous, dark, and gripping tone
- Not suitable for some readers due to violence
Young adult fiction is more common than we realize, yet this classic YA drama is one of the best books of the 1990s. It’s a fantastic LGBTQ+ novel for teens as well.
Additionally, this esteemed novel is a poignant coming-of-age story about suppressed pain and the connections of adolescent companionship that can be appreciated by both teenagers and adult-adults.
It is written in the form of a collection of notes from the main character Charlie to an unnamed (perhaps fictitious) “friend,” and it shows the challenge of coming of age when you’re not certain you can trust anyone, let alone your own mind.
Themes: Growing up, sexuality, gender and identity.
- Masterfully written coming-of-age work
- Suitable for wide variety of readers
- Some readers found parts of the book a little slow
A Game Of Thrones ranked among the best books of the 1990s. The saga is from the HBO TV series, and you better buckle up. The first book in the still-running series, the doorstop fantasy novel, has it all.
What more could you want than politics, romance, action, drama, and dragons? Even those who are not often drawn to high fantasy will like this book.
The book offers readers more insight into the viewpoints of each of the key players than the programme ever did as three main stories develop concurrently. Martin’s universe is one of the most complicated on the planet.
Themes: Power, betrayal, family, society and class.
- Engaging and masterfully built world
- Fantastic writing and memorable characters
- May be confusing for some readers
If you love tales of “stranger in a strange place,” you must read The Poisonwood Bible, arguably one of the most magnificent books of the 1990s.
The Prices family, who are at the center of the narrative, abruptly move from their house in Georgia and head to the isolated community of Kilanga inside the Belgian Congo. They are missionaries.
The family patriarch is a minister who is tormented with guilt. He is an intriguing figure in and of himself.
But what renders this a truly brilliant novel is how the plot develops from the viewpoints of the women in the family—his wife and daughters.
Themes: Religion, culture, guilt, justice.
- Intriguing characters
- Interesting viewpoints throughout story
- Not suitable for younger readers
One of the best works of historical fiction from the 1990s, Tracy Chevalier’s book of the same name, was inspired by the artwork. She claimed that the girl’s “ambiguous look” made her curious about the circumstances around it.
The titular girl in Chevalier’s account of the events is Griet, a young woman coerced into working as a maid at Vermeer’s house. She has a low social standing, but the master painter notices her special eye for art and unwittingly adopts her as his muse.
Themes: Gender, social class, talent, art.
- Offers a vivid and detailed portrayal of life in 17th century Holland
- Provides a fascinating fictional backstory for the famous painting by Johannes Vermeer
- Some readers may find the pace slow and the plot thin
There are many books from the 1990s about having adventures and traveling to new places, but if you want something with a more grounded perspective, pick out Into The Wild.
The tale of Chris McCandless, who is a middle-class suburban kid who forsook his cushy existence (not to mention his money for college!) to journey into the Alaska wilderness where he tragically perished, captured the attention of journalist and a member of our favorite travel writers Jon Krakauer.
The non-fiction book, which Krakauer developed from his previous 9,000 word essay, went on to become a global blockbuster.
If you enjoy reading about hiking, you should also read Jon Krakauer’s account of the tragic 1996 Mount Everest accident, Into Thin Air (1997).
Themes: Adventure, determination, survival.
- Engaging and immersive, provides a wealth of detail and research on the subject of wilderness survival
- Raises important questions about the nature of freedom, self-discovery, and the pursuit of happiness
- Some readers may find the book overly philosophical or heavy-handed in its themes
This book consistently ranks among the top books from the 1990s.
The Book of the Thieving Magpie (Dorob kasasagi hen), the Book of the Prophesying Bird (Yogen suru tori hen), and the Book of the Bird-Catcher Man (Torisashi otoko hen) were first published in three volumes in Murakami’s native Japanese in 1994–1955.
Then, in 1997, a single book of the first “official” English translation was published. It tells the tale of a meek, incredibly normal Japanese man whose routine domestic life becomes an expedition when he starts looking for his lost cat.
Themes: Desire, power, free will.
- Imaginative, dreamlike, and highly engaging
- A richly detailed portrayal of Japanese culture and history
- Nonlinear structure and unconventional narrative style can be confusing and disorienting for some readers
Some nonfiction works are so insightful and instructive about the society we live in that they instantly become classics and are still read today. That most certainly applies to one of the best novels of the 1990s, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
The transdisciplinary non-fiction book by Jared Diamond aims to shed light on why some civilizations predominate while others disappear or are subjugated.
The positive feedback cycles that we took for granted throughout history will no longer make any sense to you after reading this book.
Themes: Racism, violence, colonization.
- Sweeping, ambitious, and highly original account of human history
- Writing is clear, accessible, and engaging
- Some readers may find the book overly reductionist or deterministic in its explanations of human history
Sports writer Mitch Albom visits his old sociology teacher one Tuesday on a whim, unaware that the encounter will change his life and serve as the inspiration for one of the most poignant books of the 1990s.
In his memoir, Tuesdays With Morrie, Albom details his fourteen encounters with Morrie Schwartz, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which he has once a week on Tuesdays (ALS).
Albom graciously shares the principles Morrie gives him about life, dying, and everything else in between, along with excerpts from Schwartz’s lectures and other supporting material.
When their narrative was made into a movie in 1999, it expanded its audience even further.
Themes: Teaching and learning, death, family, community.
- Moving and inspiring account of the author’s relationship with his former college professor
- Writing is simple, heartfelt, and honest, and he skillfully conveys the wisdom and humor of his mentor
- The book may be too simplistic or superficial for readers looking for more complex or nuanced explorations
A guy with terrible burns, an Army medic, a criminal, and a Sikh sapper are four extremely different people who are brought together in an Italian villa during World War II.
The English Patient alternates between the events at the villa and the burned man’s memories of those events through numerous timelines and narrators.
The themes and symbolism, like the burning man’s one and only possession—a duplicate of The Histories that somehow survives—will please bibliophiles and history aficionados.
It was not only given the cherished 1992 Booker Prize, it also won the Golden Booker of 2018. This is among the most enduring works from the 1990s.
Themes: War, identity, loss, love.
- Beautifully written and immersive portrayal of the aftermath of World War II in Italy and Egypt
- Some readers may find the book overly poetic or stylized, which can make the plot difficult to follow
Instead of being a straightforward adaptation, The Hours incorporates Mrs. Dalloway’s story into its narrative to examine how three different generations of women have been affected by Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel.
Present-day resident Clarissa arranges a celebration for her closest friend who is suffering from AIDS. 1949 suburban housewife Mrs. Brown is enjoying the book Mrs. Dalloway while she organizes a private birthday bash for her husband.
Then there is Virginia Woolf herself, who is battling mental illness while writing her book. Among the best and undoubtedly one of the cleverest novels of the 1990s is this one.
Themes: Mental illness, mortality, suicide, sexual orientation.
- Writing is vivid, sensitive, and empathetic, and he captures the interior lives of his characters with great skill and insight
- Profound meditation on the nature of happiness, beauty, and human connection
- The book contains some graphic depictions of mental illness and suicide that may be disturbing for some readers
Fans of historical fiction and true crime will both appreciate Alias Grace. Even though Margaret Atwood was a prolific writer and poet for many years, this is unquestionably one of her best works from the 1990s.
The killings of Thomas Kinnear and the housekeeper Nancy Montgomery during 1843 served as the inspiration for Atwood’s fictionalized account.
James McDermott, one of Kinnear’s servants, was executed for the crime in the novel (and in real life), while Grace Marks, another servant, received a life sentence.
Atwood examines what it meant to be an oppressed woman in 19th-century Canada and what can motivate one to murder through dramatized dialogues among Grace and her doctor.
Themes: Gender, oppression, crime, injustice.
- Raises important questions about the nature of truth, memory, and justice, and it challenges readers to question their own assumptions and biases
- Writing is rich, vivid, and engaging, and she skillfully blends historical detail, psychological insight, and suspense to create a compelling narrative
- The book may be too dense or academic for some readers, as Atwood includes a wealth of historical detail and references to literature and philosophy
How To Choose Books From The 1990s?
Choosing books from the 1990s can be a great way to explore the literature of that decade and get a sense of the cultural and social trends of that time period. Here are some tips for choosing books from the 1990s:
Check Out Bestseller Lists
One way to find popular books from the 1990s is to look at bestseller lists from that decade. You can find lists from that time period online, or check out books about the history of publishing to see which titles were selling well.
Look For Award-Winning Books
Another way to find great books from the 1990s is to look for books that won awards during that decade. The Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Booker Prize are all prestigious awards that were given out during the 1990s.
The 1990s saw the rise of many different literary genres, including postcolonial literature, memoirs, and young adult fiction. If you have a favorite genre, look for books from that time period in that genre.
The 1990s were a difficult decade to categorize. It has been nicknamed “the holiday from history” — a decade of comparatively calm and success, free from existential anxiety of decades previous.
Regarding novels, there were numerous that attempted to depict the era through language. Here, we’ve reviewed the top 25 authors in this field.
We hope this article has been useful in helping you discover some of the blockbuster novels of the 1990s. The 90’s were a fantastic decade for the world of literature, with many of the books mentioned in this list still favorites now.
Whichever book you decide to pick up first, you’ll be transported back to the 1990s with an engaging and hard to put down read.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Were The 1990s A Great Decade For Literature?
The 1990s were a great decade for literature due to several factors. The rise of postcolonial literature and multiculturalism led to a more diverse body of work being published.
The decade also saw the emergence of new genres such as young adult fiction and the graphic novel.