The Unwinding An Inner History of the New America

George Packer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

0374534608

9780374534608

Trade Paperback

448 Pages

$16.00

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Winner of the National Book Award

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.

REVIEWS

Praise for The Unwinding

“George Packer has crafted a unique, irresistible contraption of a book. Not since John Dos Passos’s celebrated U.S.A. trilogy, which The Unwinding recollects and rivals, has a writer so cunningly plumbed the seething undercurrents of American life. The result is a sad but delicious jazz-tempo requiem for the post–World War II American social contract. You will often laugh through your tears at these tales of lives of ever-less-quiet desperation in a land going ever-more-noisily berserk.”—David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Freedom from Fear and Over Here

The Unwinding is the extraordinary story of what’s happened to our country over the past thirty years. George Packer gives us an intimate look into American lives that have been transformed by the dissolution of all the things that used to hold us together. The result is an epic—wondrous, bracing, and true—that will stand as the defining book of our time.”—Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War

The Unwinding presents a big, gorgeous, sad, utterly absorbing panorama of the relentless breakdown of the American social compact over a generation. George Packer communicates the scope and the human experience of the enormous change that is his subject better than any writer has so far.”—Nicholas Leman, author of Redemption and The Promised Land

“Original, incisive, courageous, and essential. One of the best works of nonfiction I’ve read in years.”
—Katherine Boo, National Book Award–winning author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

“George Packer serves us the history of our own life and times in a magisterial look at the America we lost.”—Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Looming Tower and Going Clear

“The hearts and lives broken in this second great depression have now found their eloquent voice and fierce champion in George Packer. The Unwinding is an American tragedy and a literary triumph.”
—David Frum, author of Comeback and Why Romney Lost

“As with George Orwell’s, each of George Packer’s sentences carries a pulse of moral force. The Unwinding is a sweeping and powerful book that everyone should read.”—David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z
 
[The Unwinding] hums—with sorrow, with outrage and with compassion . . . Packer’s gifts are Steinbeckian in the best sense of that term . . . [Packer has] written something close to a nonfiction masterpiece.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“[The Unwinding] has many of the qualities of an epic novel . . . [a] professional work of journalism that also happens to be more intimate and textured—and certainly more ambitious—than most contemporary works of U.S. fiction dare to be . . . What distinguishes The Unwinding is the fullness of Packer’s portraits, his willingness to show his subjects’ human desires and foibles, and to give each of his subjects a fully throated voice.”—Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times

“A work of prodigious, highly original reporting . . . [Packer] demonstrates that the future of reporting out in world isn’t in eclipse. Packer’s arduous venture commands attention.”—Joseph Lelyveld, The New York Review of Books

“Wide ranging, deeply reported, historically grounded and ideologically restrained . . . Instead of compelling us to engage with his theory of the past 35 years of the American experience, Packer invites us to explore the experience itself, as lived by our fellow citizens. They’re human beings, not evidence for an agenda or fodder for talking points. Understanding that is the first step toward reclaiming the nation we share with them.”—Laura Miller, Salon

“Fascinating . . . elegant . . . A richly complex narrative brew.”—The Chicago Tribune

“[An] awe-inspiring X-Ray of the modern American soul.”—The Millions

“A brilliant and innovative book that transcends journalism to become literature.”—Bookforum

“[S]uperbly written and consistently thought-provoking . . . The Unwinding is long-form journalism at its best.”—Dallas News

“Masterful . . . thoughtful, thorough, and persuasive . . . the payoff comes when Packer’s various elements combine in powerful and startling ways . . . What will stay with you . . . are the book’s people, people Packer never turns into ideological mascots, people who struggle to survive, to create, to improve, even as the systems of support erode around them.”—The Christian Science Monitor

“Packer writes . . . beautifully and precisely; respectfully and, when warranted, critically. There is a straightforward and generous humanity in his prose.”—Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast

“Packer’s strength as a storyteller lies in his ability to marshal a diverse range of voices from across the class divide, in a nation deeply divided by social status.” —NPR Books.org

The Unwinding . . . echoes the symphonic rage of the celebrated television series The Wire . . . a tremendous work of reporting that pushes past abstractions and recycled debates . . . Whatever one’s views on American decline generally, it is difficult to put the book down without . . . a conviction that we can do better. And yet if it is a story of despair, it is also a story of resilience. Packer’s subjects make good and bad decisions, enjoy lucky breaks and misfortune, eke it out, give in, and try harder. The lives they lead are worth describing in detail, not only because they are instructive but also because they are beautiful.”—The Washington Monthly

“[A] sprawling, trenchant narrative . . . Packer is a thorough, insightful journalist, and his in-depth profiles provide a window into American life as a whole . . . The Unwinding is a harrowing and bracing panoramic look at American society—things are bad everywhere, for everyone, but there’s still a sense of optimism. Through hard work and dedication we can pull ourselves out of the financial, political, and social mess we’ve created and become stronger as individuals and ultimately as a society.”—The Brooklyn Rail

“George Packer is a modern-day George Orwell . . . The places he writes about are never stages for personal or ideological heroism. They are always real and full of frustrating facts that expose both liberal and conservative absolutism as reckless attempts to deny reality.” —Jed Lipinski, The Village Voice

“Exemplary journalism . . . A foundational document in the literature of the end of America.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A broad and compelling perspective on a nation in crisis . . . an illuminating, in-depth, sometimes frightening view of the complexities of decline and the enduring hope of recovery.”Booklist (starred review)

“Trenchant . . . [the] brief biographies of seminal figures that shaped the current state of affairs offer the book’s fiercest prose, such as in Packer’s brutal takedown of Robert Rubin, secretary of the Treasury during some key 1990s financial deregulation that amplified the severity of the Great Recession of 2008. Packer has a keen eye for the big story in the small moment, writing about our fraying social fabric with talent that matches his dismay.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

In the Press

The Unwinding by George Packer, review - Telegraph
Melanie McGrath is impressed by an angry, wise and moving state-of-the-union address.
Review: The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, By George Packer - Reviews - Books - The Independent
#034;No one can say when the unwinding began
Work in Progress » Blog Archive » George Packer & Alex Star
Authors and Editors in Conversation Alex Star: You've titled your book The Unwinding. What do you mean by that? George Packer: It's a word that a character in the book, Dean Price, once used.
Inequality and the Modern Culture of Celebrity - NYTimes.com
A super-class thrives as ordinary dreams die.
Interview: George Packer, Author Of 'The Unwinding' : NPR
When the factory she worked at closed down, Tammy Thomas reinvented herself as a community organizer; and when Dean Price's truck stop business went belly up, he became a champion of biofuel. In a new book, George Packer examines how ordinary people are adapting to a new America.
George Packer: Can Silicon Valley Embrace Politics? : The New Yorker
Throughout most of Silicon Valley's history, its executives have displayed a libertarian instinct to stay as far from politics and government as possible. But the imperative to change the world has recently led some Silicon Valley leaders to imagine that the values and concepts behind their success can be uploaded to the public sphere.
George Packer - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 05/16/13 - Video Clip | Comedy Central
In his book "The Unwinding," George Packer chronicles three decades of American life. Airdate - 051613
The Unwinding - CSMonitor.com
Is America coming undone? New Yorker writer George Packer describes a slow meltdown.
'The Unwinding,' by George Packer - San Francisco Chronicle
uch the same, according to Packer, in his deeply reported and moving narrative, accounts for the "unwinding" of a post-World War II social contract that bound U.S. business, labor and government together for three decades. For Packer, a significant breaching of the contract occurred in Youngstown on a September day in 1977, when 5,000 workers at a Sheet and Tube mill there learned that the day before corporate board members flew in to a nearby airport voted to shut the plant down "and then f
For Packer, Jay-Z, Walton Heirs Show U.S. Unwinding - Bloomberg
Stay up to date on the latest business news, stock market data and financial trends. Get personal finance advice from leading experts.

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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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. Like any great change, the unwinding began at countless times, in countless ways—and 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 landscape—the

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • George Packer

  • George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, which received several prizes and was named one of the ten best books of 2005 by The New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of two novels, The Half Man and Central Square, and two other works of nonfiction, Blood of the Liberals, which won the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and The Village of Waiting. His play, Betrayed, ran off-Broadway for five months in 2008 and won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. His most recent book is Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade. He lives in Brooklyn.

  • George Packer Guillermo Riveros
    George Packer
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