Interesting Times Writings from a Turbulent Decade

George Packer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

432 Pages



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Throughout his career as a journalist, George Packer has always been attuned to the voices and stories of individuals caught up in the big ideas and events of contemporary history. Interesting Times unites brilliant investigative pieces such as "Betrayed," about Iraqi interpreters, with personal essays and detailed narratives of travels through war zones and failed states. Spanning a decade that includes the September 11 attacks and the election of Barack Obama, Packer brings insight and passion to his accounts of the war on terror, Iraq, political writers, and the 2008 election. Across these varied subjects a few key themes recur: the temptations and dangers of idealism; the moral complexities of war and politics; the American capacity for self-blinding and self-renewal.  Whether exploring American policies in the wake of September 11, tracking a used T-shirt from New York to Uganda, or describing the ambivalent response in Appalachia to Obama, these essays hold a mirror up to our own troubled times and showcase Packer's unmistakable perspective, which is at once both wide-angled and humane.


Praise for Interesting Times

"This volume coheres better than most in the genre. That's because Packer has a far more coherent worldview than most reporters . . . Interesting Times seems an inapt title, ironic and detached in ways that Packer is simply not. But his is the good kind of attachment, self-aware and self-reflective. He writes, 'One can only be honest about having a point of view while remaining open to aspects of reality—the human faces and voices—that might demolish it.' In his best work, reality is haunting, indeed."—Franklin Foer, The New York Times Book Review 
"Packer (The Assassins' Gate), staff writer for the New Yorker, creates an illuminating time capsule for a decade book-ended by the September 11 attacks and Barack Obama's rise to the presidency. Comprising previously published pieces, the book spotlights the biggest news—and blunders—in recent history as well as Packer's ability to ferret out important stories, perspectives and subjects elsewhere (e.g., a Sudanese intellectual and mystic hanged for sedition and apostasy who could have provided a nonviolent way forward for political Islam). Closer to home, a piece on stylistic differences between Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primaries is impressively timeless and could conceivably be consulted by historians in the next century. Packer's vivid scene setting and rich language are punctuated with flashes of mischief and humor, as when he ascribes Americans' political complacency to their seduction by iced latte, mutual fund, and The Sopranos. Despite the breadth of his topics, each essay is distinguished by its telling details and the depth of its insight."—Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Assassins' Gate
"Authoritative and tough-minded."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Masterful . . . Packer's sketch of the prewar debates is subtle, sharp and poignant . . . His reporting from Iraq was always good, but the book is even better, putting the reader at the side of Walter Benjamin's angel of history, watching helplessly as the wreckage unfolds at his feet."—Gideon Rose, The Washington Post Book World
"A deftly constructed and eloquently told account of the war's origins and aftermath . . . Packer makes it deeply human and maddeningly vivid."—David Kurtz-Pheland, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The most complete, sweeping, and powerful account of the Iraq War . . . [Packer] has depicted in stark colors the disillusionment of an entire nation."—Keith Gessen, New York magazine

"A book that is not only relevant but discerning and provocative . . . [Packer] offers the vivid detail and balanced analysis that have made him one of the leading chroniclers of the Iraq war."—Yonatan Lupu, San Francisco Chronicle

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

In the minutes after the South Tower fell on September 11, 2001, an in­vestment banker had an epiphany. Having escaped with his life just ahead of the collapse, he wandered through the smoke and confusion of lower Manhattan until he found himself in a church in Greenwich Village. Alone at the altar, covered in ash and dust, he began to shake and sob. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he looked up. It was a policeman.
“Don’t worry,” the cop said, “you’re in shock.”
“I’m not in shock,” the investment banker answered. “I like
Read the full excerpt


  • George Packer

  • George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of several books, most recently The Assassins’ Gate (FSG, 2005) and Betrayed (FSG, 2008). His reporting has won four Overseas Press Club awards.

  • George Packer Guillermo Riveros
    George Packer