NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
AN NPR BEST BOOK
Selected by New York Times' critic Dwight Garner as a Favorite Book
A Washington Post Best Political Book
A New Republic Best Book
A riveting examination of a nation in crisis, from one of the finest political journalists of our generation
American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In The Unwinding, George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, tells the story of the United States over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives.
The Unwinding journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet's significance and arrives at a radical vision of the future. Packer interweaves these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era's leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics that capture the flow of events and their undercurrents.
The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer's novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date.
Sometime in the late 1970s, the foundations of the American Century began to unravel. In this trenchant account, New Yorker writer Packer (The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq) charts the erosion of the social compact that kept the country stable and middle class. Readers experience three decades of change via the personal histories of an Ohio factory worker, a Washington political operative, a North Carolinian small businessman, and an Internet billionaire. Their lives follow the ups and downs of a changing country, where manufacturing jobs vanish, businesses thrive and fail, and political fortunes crest and recede. There's a pervasive sense that "nothing was locked down," thanks to the erosion of bank regulations that for 50 years averted the panics, and meltdowns that now push the middle class to the brink. Adroit homages to John Dos Passos's "newsreel" interludes provide astute quips and headlines. Brief biographies of seminal figures that shaped the current state of affairs offer the book's fiercest prose, such as in Packer's brutal takedown of Robert Rubin, secretary of the Treasury during some key 1990s financial deregulation that amplified the severity of the Great Recession of 2008. Packer has a keen eye for the big story in the small moment, writing about our fraying social fabric with talent that matches his dismay.
Liked it a lot
The good parts (David Price, Jeff Connaughton, Tampa, etc.) are very good, the other (Oprah, Colin Powell) less so, probably due to reliance on indirect sources. Packer succeeds in painting a riveting tapestry of America in decline. The question is though, how many Pygmies can take hunks out this particular elephant until a tipping point is reached and it collapses? Of course that's not knowable, but I read to the end, hoping the Pygmies would stop hacking.
Interesting but too small of a sample to extrapolate to the 'New America'
Mr Packer writes well, but I found the book uneven and did not think that his sample size of three primary individuals and two communities (Tampa and Youngstown) were enough to extrapolate his case to national dimensions. What we have here is a few people's and a couple community's 'inner history', not necessarily the nation's. I also found his choice of celebrity profiles odd. (Studs Terkel's investigations of the country's pulse were more compelling.)
Love the book learned something from the book