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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  4,525 ratings  ·  761 reviews
A New York Times Bestseller
One of the iTunes Bookstore's "Ten Books You Must Read This Summer"

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 whil
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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After hearing about this book on NPR's Morning Edition and Tom Ashbrook's On-Point, I decided it sounded like a book I needed to read. I tried to approach it with the caution that a possibly over-hyped new book about current events deserves. As I am not a journalist, historian, or economist, I'm not exactly qualified to criticize this kind of book, but I did my best to read it carefully, scrutinizing the text to the best of my ability. And aside from the occasional awkward sentence, I found very ...more

A superb piece of journalism.

Packer writes like a dream and those who know him from his articles in The New Yorker will find more of his astute eye and ability to conjure character in a handful of details in this thrilling series of portraits of Americans over the past four decades.

Through the trajectories of this century's new brand of evangelists (Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, Colin Powell, Peter Thiel) and the unsung lives of ordinary people like Dean Price, Tammy Thomas and Jeff Connaughton, Packer
Gary  the Bookworm
This so depressing (7/13/14):

Maybe some positive news (5/8/14):

If you're trying to figure out what happened to "Yes we can!" Barack Obama's winning motto in the 2008 presidential campaign, you might want to take a peek at George Packer's 2013 National Book Award Winner, The Great Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. It is a sobering look at the American experience for the last four decades. He focuses on t
I never had an idea of what my life was supposed to be. I had dreams -- too vague to be ambitions -- but nobody ever handed me the keys to a life and told me to drive away into the future. So at some point I found myself in the future and, looking around, I had to ask how did I get here?

This book is about that question, and as Packer winds through the answers in the life of each subject he inscribes all our lives through these last forty years. We were all here, and even if we didn't know what w
George Packer returned from several years overseas writing about problems of the United States in the world, never imagining that the United States would become his next subject. But he was appalled with the condition of America when he returned and wondered what had happened to our forward momentum. In reading this book, you may feel the perplexity I had in the beginning, for his stories are wide-ranging and diverse and seem to bear no relation to one another. But slowly, the accretion of pages ...more
Parts of The Unwinding I enjoyed (the account of the Occupy Wall St movement through the perspective of one organizer and one participant, and the Elizabeth Warren portrait, for example); other parts bored me nearly to tears (please not Jeff Connaugton again); and one section actually did bring me to tears of frustration and despair (the story of the impoverished Hartsell family of Tampa). And the chapter epigraphs were pretty entertaining in the audio book context - disjointed and unidentified ...more
Let me tell you a story: after World War II, the United States--having survived the world's bloodiest conflict largely unscathed--began an economic Golden Age. While taxes were high (91% top marginal rate in the 1950s), America was thriving. Our standard of living became the envy of the world. Our infrastructure and education system were second to none. We did Big Things, and had one of, if not the, highest standards of living in human history. While this prosperity was not as widely shared as i ...more
This is a high-quality book that would undoubtedly be more interesting to read twenty years from now. Packer intersperses capsule portraits of the rich and powerful (Peter Thiel, Newt Gingrich, Jay-Z) with longer narratives about ordinary people in Youngstown, OH; North Carolina; Tampa; and even Washington D.C. as they struggle to find work, meaning, and community while their connections and assumptions crumble around them.

"He had always thought of himself as middle-class, and it amazed him to c
Even though I am not an American, I found this book engrossing and moving. As another review said, it is a book to make you sad and angry in equal measure. What I found most surprising was how inspiring the stories of some of the people who suffered; I am in awe of the grit, dignity, perseverance of Dean and Tammy in particular.

[Plot spoilers ahead !!]

Most, if not all of the famous people in it do not come out very well from Packer's profiles. But I found the story of Peter Theil, one of the fo
Ron Davidson
I got this (audio) book because it was recommended on a blog or other website I follow. (Can't remember which.) I thought it would be an analytical observation of the decline of the United States economy and culture. I suppose it was, in a very roundabout way. When I finished the book, my first reaction was, "Why?" I am still trying to figure out any useful meaning or purpose in the book. It is simply a mass of personal vignettes, usually where the author pretends to write in the voice of the su ...more
Steve Smits
I heard Packer give a talk about his book in Raleigh. In his talk he featured mostly North Carolinian Dean Price who is one of persons whose stories is told at length. The Unwinding uses stories of non-notable people, like Price, to describe the downward trajectory of our country over the past few decades. Dean Price is from the Piedmont who is attempting to overcome the economic downturn of the region through various business ventures. His initial efforts are traditional -- truck stops, fast fo ...more
i bought this book because a quick read of the flaps promised me perspective: what the changes in my country have been and how they worked out (or not) in individual lives from the 1970s to the present. since that's the lifespan of my awareness of the larger national life, i was hooked.

it's a brilliant book.

when i was a kid, america made certain promises: that if i got an education, worked hard, and did my best to be a decent citizen, my country would be sure i had a job, and thereby could feed
It’s fitting that a sequel to John Dos Passos’s renowned USA trilogy is a non-fiction book. Dos Passos’s work is a mix of brilliance and overreach, the newsreel, camera eye, and bio segments read as well as if they were written yesterday, but some of the fictional arcs drag which cannot be said for Packer’s continuation of it. The original trilogy covers the three decades in which America moved from a developing country towards empire, and Packer covers the three decades were America seems to be ...more
Moira Crone
THE UNWINDING is a marvelous collage, in the best sense, of the ways in which our post-Reagan revolution economy has impoverished people and destroyed upward mobility, helped the haves and devastated the have-nots. This group of stories tells us a whole lot about what is wrong with society since the dismantling begun in 1980's, and hints at what ways we might get out of the trouble we are in.
At last, we are talking about the toll the last thirty years has taken on the country, and maybe the next
Carol Storm
I just don't understand why I hate George Packer so much. I mean, I'm as liberal as the next person. I think the government should help poor people out. I think everyone should have care in their old age. Yet whenever I read George Packer, I just end up wanting to punch him in the face, again and again!

For one thing, he has no imagination at all. He only takes the cheapest shots possible, and all his enemies are the usual suspects. I mean, who needs another attack on Newt Gingrich? There is one
Andrew Schirmer
Packer attempts to do a post-recession The Way We Live Now cobbled together from his New Yorker profiles and secondary sources. Wisely avoiding any normative judgement, he allows his subjects to speak irony-free. But just how accurate can a portrait formed of outliers be? Still, this is compelling, compulsive reading.
The Blood Suckers and The Living Dead
The Unwinding is one of the scariest books I've read in a long while. It reminds me of one night while I was in the hospital undergoing a process called plasmapheresis, plasma exchange. I lay in a bed hooked up, while my blood was drained, cleaned out and returned with Albumin mixed in. In the bed next to me, lay another patient watching a vampire/zombie movie. I couldn't hear it, but I saw characters suck blood from others, I saw transformations, I saw fire
I really like Packer's book on Iraq, The Assassins Gate, and was anxious to read this, particularly when I heard Packer interviewed on the radio, saying that he had borrowed the format for the book from Dos Passos, and had chosen interesting characters to reflect the increasing divide between the classes in America.

The book is interesting enough. The personalities are worth reading about, and present a reasonable point counter-point, but on the whole the form is a disappointment. If Packer is m
The subtitle of this book tells the story. "An Inner History of the New America" An Inner history. Not a polemic, not a manifesto, not a scientific analysis, (though at times Packer sort of subsumes each of those styles of political writing within it). Instead he tries to come to grips with the U.S.A's current moment of economic/political/institutional debacle by asking what its like to really live in modern America. The book is grounded around the lives of three people who each experience a rad ...more
3.5 stars, but I rounded down. I took the two (well, one and a half) stars off because:

1) I think Packer writes like someone who thinks he's a better writer than he is. He's not bad, by any means, but there were a lot of parts that seemed overwritten, and he had a bad habit of cramming way too much information into confusing run-on sentences. I just felt like he tried too hard to make his stories fascinating and meaningful and poignant and poetic, and it just wasn't necessary. The stories are in
Peter Mcloughlin
This is a panoramic mosaic of America in the last thirty years pieced together by taking biographical sketches of Americans from all walks of life some rich and famous some not. Their are familiar names like Newt Gingrich, Andrew Breitbart, Robert Rubin, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, Sam Walton, and some not famous like Tammy Thomas a factory worker in Youngstown Ohio who became a community organizer, Jeff Connaughton a lobbyist with ties to Joe Biden and the Financial industry, Dean Price a sma ...more
Moira Russell
Was dithering back and forth between 3.5 and 4 stars for this, which is stupid, and if the dithering takes that long, what the hell, it's good enough for the extra half star. I really didn't agree with all of Packer's conclusions or observations (and I got real tired of both the Mournful Lobbyist and 'Green Dean' after a while), or his occasional sexism, but his writing style is really amazing. Spellbinding. Crackling. Enthralling. Kris says his Peace Corps memoir (sadly NOT IN EBOOK FORMAT, FSG ...more
If at any point over the past five or ten years you've caught yourself thinking some sort of variation of "the fuck's the matter with this country?!?"--for me, it's been kind of non-stop--the answer's right here, in George Packer's remarkable portrait of America in the 21st century (and, as important and disheartening, how we got here) The Unwinding. How did our political system become such a joke, with everyone in Washington far more concerned with cashing in with the army of lobbyists (backed ...more
It evades definition, this unwinding. Through the course of 430 pages, Packer never attempts to describe it. He doesn’t use data, or even introductions and conclusions. Instead, he offers you stories meant to take you to it, guide you around its contours, nudge you down its path (because yes, it is on a decline), and drop you at its ending, where you are left with the discomfiting sense that it isn’t over yet.

George Packer is a seasoned journalist, and he knows how to tell a story. In this book,
Conor Mcauliffe
I'm amused by the comments here alternately praising and bemoaning the dispassionate tone of the book. I thought Packer's populist, anti-establishment perspective was more than a bit heavy-handed. The lower-middle class protagonists are held up as paragons of virtue, victims of the machine. The success stories are included mainly to point out the pernicious effects and hypocrisy inherent in their success. Thiel is about as repugnant as they come, but he is a straw man villain, apparently lacking ...more
Len Edgerly
This is a beautiful, powerful portrait of America. Packer lets his real-life characters tell the story of the unwinding of what used to hold the nation together. The "I" of the author never appears once. But what an author we have here - painstaking in his reporting, fierce in his insights, deeply sympathetic with his characters, and a beautiful writer of often poetic prose. I expect this book to win prizes and last a very long time as a reference point in the ongoing effort to understand where ...more
Lana Brown
This is one of the best journalistic depictions of America I have ever read. George Packer is a great writer, accessible but lyrical when the subject calls for it. He has focused on just the right array of Americans -- rich and poor, conservative and liberal -- to demonstrate just what went wrong over the last few decades. People who were raised to believe hard work would guarantee security, and who have found that America doesn't work that way anymore. Highly recommended.
Laura Leaney
"Unwinding" is an interesting way to describe the cultural shifts occurring in America, which I think most of us might feel should be more aptly called "collapsing." But I get it. A collapse is so sudden, while unwinding is a much slower process - like "the long emergency" described by James Howard Kunstler who writes the blog Clusterfuck Nation. Oh yeah. Now there's an accurate title.

I found the whole of Packer's book fascinating and sad. The threads of American life are represented by people o
George Packer is an enterprising reporter, with a curiosity about enterprising people, and he's got a story to tell here, of one North Carolina entrepreneur, Dean Price, and one Youngstown, Ohio laid-off automotive worker, Tammy Thomas, and their perseverance in the new monetized, deregulated economy. Packer's diligence and faith in telling their stories is moving. But their stories are only two of five or ten he's set out to tell here, to say nothing of his "witnesses" -- the celebrity-iconogra ...more
Ellen Pierson
Big things are wrong in America. A grim title for a grimmer set of narratives, The Unwinding shines a necessarily unforgiving light on the impact of deindustrialization and economic decline, forces that seem to have settled in as intransigent features of American life. To determine exactly how we’re faring, author George Packer brings together the stories of individuals from widely disparate stations (Occupy Wall St. organizer Nelini Stamp to Silicon Valley mogul Peter Thiel). The resulting tale ...more
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Which character's story did you connect with most? 1 21 Jan 16, 2014 07:22PM  
Afterwords Books: The Unwinding 15 30 Dec 13, 2013 05:40PM  
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“Nowhere was the complacency of the establishment, with its blind faith in progress, more evident than in its attitude toward an elite degree: as long as my child goes to the right schools, upward mobility will continue. A university education had become the equivalent of a very expensive insurance policy, like owning a gun.” 1 likes
“The problem came down to this: Americans, who had invented the modern assembly line, the skyscraper, the airplane, and the integrated circuit, no longer believed in the future.” 1 likes
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