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Unwinding (Packer)

The Unwinding:  An Inner History of the New America
George Packer, 2013
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
448 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780374534608


Summary
Winner, 2013 National Book Award

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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—August 13, 1960
Where—Santa Clara, California, USA
Education—B.A., Yale College
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York City


George Packer is an American journalist, novelist, and playwright. He is perhaps best known for his writings for The New Yorker about U.S. foreign policy and for his related book The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq. More recently he wrote "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America," covering the history of America from 1978-2012.

Life and career
Packer was born in Santa Clara, California. Packer's parents, Nancy (nee Huddleston) and Herbert Packer, were both academics at Stanford University; his maternal grandfather was George Huddleston Jr., a congressman from Alabama. His great-grandfather, George Huddleston Sr., was also a congressman from Alabama in the earlier part of the 20th Century. His sister, Ann Packer, is also a writer. His father was Jewish and his mother was from a Christian background.

Packer graduated from Yale College, where he lived in Calhoun College, in 1982, and served in the Peace Corps in Togo. His essays and articles have appeared in Boston Review, The Nation, World Affairs, Harper's, New York Times, and The New Yorker, among other publications. Packer was a columnist for Mother Jones and has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since May 2003.[6]

Packer was a Holtzbrinck Fellow Class of Fall 2009 at the American Academy in Berlin.

His book The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq analyzes the events that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and reports on subsequent developments in that country, largely based on interviews with ordinary Iraqis. He was a supporter of the Iraq war. He was a finalist for the 2004 Michael Kelly Award.

A more recent book, "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America," covers American history from 1978-2012,focuses on the ways that America has changed in the 34 years covered. The book achieves this mainly by tracing the lives of various individuals from different backgrounds through the years. Interspersed are capsule biographies of influential figures of the time such as Colin Powell, Elizabeth Warren, Jay-Z and Raymond Carver.

He is married to Laura Secor and was previously married to Michele Millon.a (From .)



Book Reviews
This book hums—with sorrow, with outrage and with compassion for those who are caught in the gears of America's increasingly complicated (and increasingly poorly calibrated) financial machinery.… The Unwinding contains many sweeping, wide-angle views of American life. Its portraits of Youngstown, Ohio; Tampa; Silicon Valley; Washington; and Wall Street are rich, complex and interlocking. Mr. Packer's gifts are Steinbeckian in the best sense of that term…he's written something close to a nonfiction masterpiece.
Dwight Garner - New York Times


Packer's is a big book, using close portraiture to make huge conclusions about who we've become and what we've lost…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 another strain of American creativity, in the stories of Raymond Carver and the paintings of Edward Hopper, in the dignity and heart of a people who grow deeply lonely as their lives break down, but who somehow retain muscle memory of how to climb back up.
Marc Fisher - Washington Post


[M]any 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 - Los Angeles Times


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.
New York Review of Books


(Starred review.) Sometime in the late 1970s, the foundations of the American Century began to unravel. In this trenchant account, New Yorker writer Packer charts the erosion of the social compact that kept the country stable and middle class. Readers experience three decades of change via the personal histories.... 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.) 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.
Booklist


Packer describes the decline of America from a very specific time: If you were born half a century ago, around 1960, then, he writes, "you watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape."... Exemplary journalism that defines a sobering, even depressing matter. A foundational document in the literature of the end of America--the end, that is, for the moment.
Kirkus Reviews



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