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.
No one can say when the unwinding beganwhen the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way. Like any great change, the unwinding began at countless times, in countless waysand at some moment the country, always the same country, crossed a line of history and became irretrievably different.
If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding. You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscapethe farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools. And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere. When the norms that made the old ...
Overall, George Packer's The Unwinding takes an ingenious approach to interpreting today's America. His way of considering the whole via its parts is intimate and insightful, and he allows readers to watch the events of the last 30 years unfold like a science experiment. Though I don't feel like I walked away with a deeper understanding of my place in this "unwinding," I do feel like Packer has given me plenty to think about.
(Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).
Full Review (1225 words).
In The Unwinding, George Packer looks at the lives of a handful of people as a way of exemplifying the evolution (or in some cases, devolution) of American politics, economics, and culture. One of these people, Dean Price, came from a long line of poor tobacco farmers in North Carolina. As a young man, he was eager to escape his father's cruelty and, after graduating from college in 1989, he worked for eight months as a pharmaceutical rep, thinking that he would be living the American dream. The only problem was that he hated it. "He'd gotten out of his father's house only to find another kind of servitude. He decided to start over and do things his own way. He would become an entrepreneur."
He moved back to his hometown and started a ...
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