OVERRIDE

The Unwinding

An Inner History of the New America

George Packer

Macmillan Audio

  • National Book Awards Finalist

    National Book Awards Winner

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The 2013 National Book Award Winner

A New York Times Bestseller
Selected by New York Times’ critic Dwight Garner as a Favorite Book of 2013
One of Amazon's Best Books of 2013
A New York Times Notable Book of 2013
A Washington Post Best Political Book of 2013
An NPR Best Book of 2013
A New Republic Best Book of 2013
One of Publishers Weekly's Best Nonfiction Books of 2013
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013

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.

BOOK EXCERPTS

Read an Excerpt

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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    Listen to author George Packer read from his new book, The Unwinding

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    George Packer on The Unwinding

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REVIEWS

Praise for The Unwinding

Praise for The Unwinding:

[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

“Gripping . . . deeply affecting . . . beautifully reported.”
David Brooks, The New York Times Book Review

“Remarkable.”
—Joe Klein, Time

“Packer’s dark rendering of the state of the nation feels pained but true. He offers no false hopes, no Hollywood endings, but he finds power in . . . the dignity and heart of a people.”
The Washington Post

“[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.”
Héctor Tobar, The Los Angeles Times

“A monumental work that is both intimate and sweeping . . . Packer’s writing dazzles . . . [his] reporting excels . . . The cumulative effect is extraordinary.”
Ken Armstrong, The Seattle Times

“Brilliant. Harrowing. Gorgeously written . . . The Unwinding is a lyrical requiem for a lost time, for downsized dreams and surrendered hopes. It’s beautiful . . .  but also . . . heartbreaking, a lush work of art that hurts all the more for being about the loss of hope and promise in America.”
The Daily Kos

“This is a work not just of fact, but of wit, irony, and astounding imagination.” 
—Lorin Stein, The Paris Review

“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

“[Packer is] among the best non-fiction writers in America . . . [he] weaves an unforgettable tapestry . . . In its sensibility, The Unwinding is closer to a novel than a work of non-fiction. It is all the more powerful for it.”
Edward Luce, The Financial Times

“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

“Packer’s is an American voice of exceptional clarity and humanity in a tradition of reportage that renders the quotidian extraordinary. When our descendants survey the ruins of this modern imperium and sift its cultural detritus, American voices like this will be the tiny treasures that endure.”
The Independent (UK)

“This angry, wise and moving state-of-the-union address is too subtle and clever to be prescriptive. Packer offers no simplistic solutions. But here’s the thing. The writing in this fine work showcases the very same qualities of democratic generosity and fair-mindedness whose supposed disappearance in America its author most laments.”
The Telegraph (UK)

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

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 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 Lemann, 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


Praise for George Packer:

“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

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.
- The Telegraph
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
- The Independent
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.
- FSG's Work in Progress
Inequality and the Modern Culture of Celebrity - NYTimes.com
A super-class thrives as ordinary dreams die.
- The New York Times
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.
- NPR
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.
- The New Yorker
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 Daily Show
The Unwinding - CSMonitor.com
Is America coming undone? New Yorker writer George Packer describes a slow meltdown.
- The Christian Science Monitor
'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
- San Francisco Chronicle
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.
- Business Week

Reviews from Goodreads

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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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Available Formats and Book Details

The Unwinding

An Inner History of the New America

George Packer

National Book Awards - Longlist, National Book Awards Finalist, National Book Awards Winner, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, Amazon.com Best Books of the Year, Chapters Indigo Best of the Year, Hudson Booksellers Best of the Year, New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, Christian Science Monitor Best Books of the Year, The Globe Books 100, NPR Best Book of the Year, Slate Book Review Best Books of the Year, Chicago Tribune Best Books of the Year, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, Minneapolis Star Tribune Holiday Book Recommendations, Kansas City Star Top Books of the Year, Financial Times Books of the Year, Bookish Best Books of the Year, Seattle Times Best Books of the Year, Barnes and Noble Best New Books of the Year, Apple iBooks Best of the Year, National Book Critics Circle Awards - Nominee
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FROM THE PUBLISHER

Macmillan Audio

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