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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New…

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

by George Packer

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8752615,484 (4.03)1 / 188
Title:The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
Authors:George Packer
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013), Hardcover, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:adult, nonfiction

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


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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
An interesting idea. Rather than pontificate and moralize on the "inner history of the new America," Packer tries to tell that story through a number of capsule bios of folks who exemplify, in one way or another, the trends he feels are shaping that new America. This, to me, seems to be a far more honest, challenging, and, if successful, effective way of doing the "social trends and their consequences" book.
2 vote ehines | Jul 11, 2017 |
One of the best modern era history books I've read, though at times discouraging. Based on "hundreds of hours of interviews" as part of his research, what I found most effective here were the detailed, intimate chronicles of the individuals whose remarkable stories form the heart of the book. This social and political history I think especially displays the mercenary nature of those in power or who are running roughshod over others to achieve power. Globalization as a whole, and reactionary, short-sighted government are the main culprits. Our American addiction to hyper-consumption and general irresponsibility, for me, are part of the mess as well. Witnessing here the perseverance of a few stalwarts, who even so have suffered defeat again and again, I am bluntly reminded how so many ordinary millions are simply trying to survive, to get to next week. Multinational corporations and bloated bureaucrats truly run the show. I exultantly recommend this, as much as I regret its raw truth. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Jul 8, 2017 |
A great book. Packer writes about four or five Americans who have been wrecked by changes in Society. There is no money anywhere in the US, except for the very rich. I have read a New Yorker piece about Jeff Connaughton and Joe Biden and what a prick Biden was.He examines a Youngstown Ohio black lady who worked in the many mills that used to be there, a Southern idiot who tries to set up a biodiesel business, Peter Thiel, a silicon valley billionaire and various leading lights including Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, Bob Rubin, Breitbart and Senator Elizabeth Warren. There is no getting around the fact that this is a much different country than it used to be. Undoubtedly the recent Presidential election which saw Trump elected was the last gasp of the people who have lost everything, Too bad. ( )
  annbury | Mar 4, 2017 |
"As Van Sickler drove back to the office to write up his story, he thought about the way Bender had looked at him. The contempt. Just like the comments that came in after one of his stories went up on the Web—they had nothing to do with what he'd written, minds were already made up. Every local issue was drowned out by the shouting on national cable news. There were no longer any facts that everyone in America could agree on at the start. For example, his paper had gone to great effort and expense to dig up information about the benefits as well as the costs, of light rail in Tampa, and none of it had sunk in. What had sunk in was “No tax for tracks” … p 314

“Peter Thiel told an interviewer, 'In the history of the modern world, inequality has only been ended through communist revolution, war or deflationary economic collapse. It's a disturbing question which of these three is going to happen today or if there's a fourth way out.'
” p372.

How did we get this way?

George Packer follows both well known and unknown people in this episodic biography of the last few decades. Attitudes change: civility in public office fails, profit rules, there is less and less recognition of the humanity behind the people effected by companies closing, downsizing, pension plans disappearing, real estate bubbles bursting. At last it seems that doing all the right things – working to own a home and educate your kids aren't enough; in fact in many cases it isn't even a possibility.

This book was written in 2013 but, clearly illustrates what is going on in America in 2017. Many of the biographical political snippets are people in power today.

Highly recommended. Deeply saddening.

My only criticism is that I wish it had an index. ( )
2 vote streamsong | Feb 24, 2017 |
The Unwinding tells the story of the American economic and cultural shifts through the stories of a variety of individual Americans. He starts and ends with Dean Price, a smart white working class guy living in the piedmont of North Carolina, descendent of a tobacco-growing family in a tobacco-growing region which had, by the millennium, fallen into apparently permanent disintegration. Packer also follows Jeff Connaughton, a white upper-middle-class political strategist who spent much of his career shadowing Joe Biden, hoping for a crack at helping "his guy" earn a term in the White House. We meet Tammy Thomas, a relatively uneducated black assembly line worker from Youngstown, Ohio, who watched her community go into deep decline after the Steel jobs disappeared and who, later, found purpose and meaning in local politics as she poured herself into saving the town she loves. We also peek briefly into the lives of Newt Gingrich, Robert Ruben, Andrew Breitbart, Elizabeth Warren, and we follow the radically different trajectories of Tampa and Silicon Valley through the latter part of the 20th and the first decade of the 21st centuries.

Packer's story is that of a persistent unwinding of the American dream, and the role that big money (and I mean big money) has played in that decline. The influence held by the extremely wealthy few and the ineffectualness of even the most inspired leaders to nudge the direction of our plutocracy is, at best, discouraging. Packer calls out individuals who hold some bit of responsibility in creating our current economic and political mess, including Presidents Clinton and Obama, as well as (for example) banks that have lobbied effectively for deregulation even in the face of sound evidence that said regulations protect our economy from boom-bust cycles that tend to most adversely affect the middle and working classes. But this work is less about individuals than it is about a system. It is about a system that is vulnerable to manipulation and undermining, and it is about a system that has become so esoteric and complicated that it's difficult to see where actual individuals might alter its course.

Packer published this book well before the 2016 election but his work appears to have predicted the outcome. I was particularly struck by his description of Matt, Dean Price's lodger who found himself working for Wal-Mart, earning about $8 an hour:

'What really depressed Matt was how monetary everything had become in America, how it was just the biggest profit at the lowest cost. It was all about me, me, me, and no one wanted to help anyone else. The lobbyists, the politicians -- they were all corrupt, taking everything from those who had the least. His favorite thing to do when he was alone in Dean's basement relaxing with a beer was to watch old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. It was a better America back then. If he could have grown up at any time it would have been in the fifties, which was the last great time in America. He hated to say it but it was true.'

And there is this, referring to Peter Thiel, who originally founded PayPal and has become a wacky but terrifyingly influential billionaire who is on the executive committee of Donald Trump's transition team:

'Thiel was an elite among elites, but he directed his intellectual fire at his own class, or the people a couple of rungs down -- professionals making two or three hundred thousand a year. Elites had become complacent. If they couldn't grasp the reality of a tech slowdown, it was because their own success skewed them in an optimistic direction, and wealth inequality kept them from seeing what was happening in places like Ohio. "If you were born in 1950 and were in the top ten percent, everything got better for twenty years automatically. Then, after the late sixties, you went to a good grad school, and you got a good job on Wall Street in the late seventies, and then you hit the boom. Your story has been one of incredible, unrelenting progress for sixty years. Most people who are sixty years old in the U.S. -- not their story at all." The establishment had been coasting for a long time and was out of answers. Its failure pointed to new directions, maybe Marxist, maybe libertarian, along a volatile trajectory that it could no longer control.'

I don't make that much money nor did I ever work on Wall Street, but I know he is speaking to and of me.

This book moved along at an easy clip: engaging, infuriating, terrifying, and fascinating. I learned a lot. I feel a deeper and more complex understanding of our political and economic system and how we have ended up where we currently are. I feel no more clarity about how we get out of this mess, but I'm also no less determined to join the chorus of voices demanding that the 1950s were not really the greater America and that a return to the cultural values of that time are not the answer to our apparently inexorable decline as a nation. Highly recommended. ( )
8 vote EBT1002 | Feb 19, 2017 |
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George Packerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fass, RobertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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No funciona el gobierno, ni la sociedad y la menguante clase media tiene escasas posibilidades de resurgir.

A través de los perfiles de varios personajes Packer ofrece una perspectiva tan amplia como fascinante de la crisis de una nación. Se centra en la vida de un evangelista de Carolina del Norte, que se busca la vida en una economía cambiante; una trabajadora de Youngstown (Ohio), que lucha por sobrevivir al declive industrial de un país; un lobbyista de Washington, atrapado entre sus ideales y la realidad de la política americana; y un empresario de Silicon Valley que apuesta por el papel del comercio electrónico. Entremedias aparecen valuosísimas referencias a protagonistas de esta era como Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Raymond Carver, Sam Walton o Jay-Z.
Una obra maestra en la que Packer ofrece un retrato penetrante, iluminador y aveces terrible de las complejidades del declive de una potencia y de la esperanza de la recuperación.
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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)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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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