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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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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 ( )
  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 |
For a book that I bought under a misconception, and for a discount, The Unwinding actually proved to be both instructive and engrossing. True, there are around 130 pages too many for the subject - Packer makes his point in part one - but I love reading about life's successes and survivors, and this account of twenty-first century America has plenty of both.

Packer writes about Tammy Thomas, working to bring together a struggling Ohio community; Dean Price, an biofuel entrepreneur from North Carolina; Peter Thiel, who cofounded PayPal in Silicon Valley; Jeff Connaughton, getting nowhere fast in Washington; and covers the housing market in Tampa, Florida, from the perspective of a reporter and the polarized views of residents. Also covered are brief biographies on celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), Colin Powell and Jay-Z. Some stories were more interesting than others - Tammy Thomas, the Occupy Wall Street sit-in of 2011 - but the contrast of the best and the worst of the American Dream in action really got me thinking. Basically, modern day America can be summed up in two phrases - 'I'm all right, Jack, pull up the ladder', and 'the rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer'. No different to the UK, I suppose, except that money and materialism determine the 'class system' of the US, while the top layer driving this country into the dirt have either inherited or married power, rather than earning it. Fact is more depressing than fiction. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jan 12, 2015 |
This is a book which sounds depressing and fatalistic, but presents wonderful stories of individuals making things work in a declining middle America. It's beautifully written, and may be the best non fiction book I read in 2013. ( )
  lincolnpan | Dec 31, 2014 |
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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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