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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New…

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013)

by George Packer

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Although not totally successful, this gives as good a picture of the economic and social climate of America over the last thirty years by detailing lots of individual lives from those struggling to survive in low paid jobs or on welfare to financiers and government advisers via Oprah Winfrey. Unfortunately not all those profiled are that interesting. ( )
  stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
Using portraits of Americans, both famous and generally unknown, Packer explores the unwinding of the American dream, which he claims began in the 70’s and has continued unabated since. From the perspective of the bizarre and disappointing 2016 presidential campaign, one can only conclude that this book, published in 2013, was indeed prescient. Income inequality has widened; little substantive has been done to reduce global warming; our involvement in war has increased; our political system has morphed to more closely resemble an oligarchy favoring the wealthy and corporations than a representative democracy; and the social contract is unraveling leaving more and more people behind. Based on the rhetoric of the 2016 campaign, Americans have begun to awaken to the problems, but are divided about how to tackle them—more war and repression versus sweeping social programs. Unfortunately, there seems to be little interest in coming together to seek solutions. Instead, fear and bickering are the order of the day and the beat goes on.

This is not an easy book to read because it offers little in the way of solutions and sees few leaders willing or able to address the problems. We seem to be trapped in a complex world that is rapidly changing while we have few resources to respond. The take home lessons from Packer’s portraits seem to be that we are all on our own. Grifters and con men abound in these stories and most of us are pretty easy pickings because the resources that used to sustain us no longer work. The few continue to prosper while the majority languishes. ( )
  ozzer | Mar 26, 2016 |
This National Book Award winner tells the story of the US over the last 30 years or so--and it's the way of telling it that makes the book unique. Packer uses the lives of several people as examples of what has happened. These include Tammy Thomas, factory worker/community organizer in Youngstown, Dean Price, son of a North Carolina tobacco farmer, now biofuel manufacturer/advocate, Jeff Connaughton, a D.C. insider, on again/off again lobbyist/Biden aide, and Peter Thiel, a Valley venture capitalist billionaire. Their stories over the last thirty years are told in episodic, roughly chronological chapters. Interspersed with their stories are the stories of a dozen or so public figures, including Oprah, Newt Gingrich, Elizabeth Warren, Jay-Z, Colin Powell, Sam Walton, Raymond Carver, Robert Rubin, and so on. There's also a long series of narratives devoted to the city of Tampa, which Packer uses to illustrate the real estate bubble and burst. There are also excerpts from newspaper headlines, advertisements and song lyrics, a la Dos Passos's USA Trilogy.

I loved this book. There are no authorial intrusions, and each of the individuals profiled. Each story is independent, and there are varying political biases, but all share a common theme: things are falling apart.

Highly recommended:

4 1/2 stars ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Nov 23, 2015 |
This is not a happy book. But does weave a narrative that must be told about how America in 2013 came to be - not through the acts of the famous but through the lives of everyday people.

After reading this, I'm left with the thought that any hope of undoing the "great unwinding" of America will happen by the actions of everyday people.

Recommended with reservation: you will be depressed while reading this. ( )
  dham340 | May 10, 2015 |
Once upon a time, there was an America that believed in the social contract--that it was important for the sake of the nation to make sure everyone got a fair shake, a shot at the "American dream." It wasn't a long period in our history. It ran roughly from the FDR administration through the Carter administration.

Things changed under Ronald Reagan. To enable things to be fairer for everybody, regulation was necessary so individuals and corporations didn't become fully exploitive and rapacious in self-pursuit. But under the new regime, regulation was considered bad and was deemed "morning in America."

The Unwinding chronicles the America we have been left with. It's a depressing tale. Power and wealth have become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, while avenues for others to have a chance at living the "American dream" themselves have been increasingly squeezed closed.

I have always enjoyed George Packer's writing in The New Yorker, and while he also provides a vivid picture in this book, I was left with little hope that there's much chance of every going back toward that time when Americans felt a responsibility for the weakest among them again. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
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No one can say when the unwinding began - when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374102414, Hardcover)

A riveting examination of a nation in crisis, from one of the finest political journalists of our generation

Our 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 leaving the social contract in pieces, bringing 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 America 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 who oscillates 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.

The narrative combines these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and with collages of headlines, slogans, and songs that capture the flow of events and 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.


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:50 -0400)

Through an examination of the lives of several Americans and leading public figures over the past three decades, Packer 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.… (more)

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