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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  11,193 ratings  ·  1,424 reviews
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 set
ebook, 448 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Peter It is painful to read, but less painful than living through it or thinking about it, and it has the advantage of giving you some information you might…moreIt is painful to read, but less painful than living through it or thinking about it, and it has the advantage of giving you some information you might not have already known. It is structured after John Dos Passos’ “USA” which was about a similar unwinding, so if you enjoy this, you will likely also like “USA.” My only complaint was that it was shallow on detail of why these things happened---what were the economic forces at play? For that, I recommend two books. First, Barry C. Lynn, “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction.” After reading that, the uniquely American phenomenon of increasing management pay with decreasing labor costs will make shocking sense. Second is Michael J. Sandel’s “What Money Can’t Buy” on the destructive impact of market based thinking on the very fragile social fabric of community. (less)

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May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
”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.”

The Unwinding is an interesting, revealing, thoughtful mosaic of America in the years 1978 – 2012.

from The Last American Vagabond
(The graphic fits; I make
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
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 02, 2014 added it
Shelves: usa, non-fiction
The front of this book describes it as "complex", but actually it's as straightforward as walking, remember that? One foot in front of t'other. Unsurprisingly, since George Packer is a staff writer for the New Yorker, he uses that favourite journalistic technique of taking the individual to represent the general. One person per phenomenon that he sees as destructive of America The Great: deindustrialization and the concomitant leaking away of jobs and community, a distinct lack of support for al ...more
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-events
Packer follows the lives of three people from 1978 through 2012, filling in with many side vignettes to illustrate the dramatic changes in middle class life. We see how people lost their jobs and their homes caught up in the boom and bust cycles of the period. We see how powerful corporations and their political minions decimated the working class. To those who bought into the American dream of the 1950’s and 60’s there was a rude awakening. Sprinkled throughout are brief biographical sketches o ...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
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, 2013-reads
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
Dana Stabenow
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the book you read if you want an eyewitness account of the last 40 years of American history, leading specifically to the Great Recession and told from the viewpoint of the people who lived it. You could teach American History 102 directly from its pages and your students would learn a hell of a lot more than from some dusty old textbook.

Packer alternates his narrative among half a dozen Americans, interspersed with profiles of people you all know, like Newt Gingrich and Oprah and Jay-Z,
Carol Storm
Dec 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, nonfiction, politics
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
Laura Leaney
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Scott Rhee
Mar 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The American author John Roderigo Dos Passos, early in his career in the 1930s, wrote a pro-socialist series of popular novels. Known collectively as The U.S.A. Trilogy, the three novels are considered by many critics to be three of the best novels written in the 20th-century. Dos Passos and his novels, unfortunately, are rarely lauded today and even rarely mentioned outside of literary circles, perhaps---and most likely---due to his socialist/communist leanings.

Having read the books (in college
Steve Smits
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Chaikin
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
6. The Unwinding : An Inner History of the New America (audio) by George Packer
reader Robert Fass
published: 2013
format: audio CD 19:00
acquired: Library
read: Jan 9-31
rating: 4

Packer writes a history through biographies of the changes in the United from 1973 to right about 2013. He mixes in mini biographies of Newt Gingrich, Sam Walton, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Rubin, Peter Thiel, Elizabeth Warren, etc with biographies of lesser known figures who are difficult to summarize. They are, shall we say, r
Hank Stuever
I've finally unwound myself from "The Unwinding." This was my second attempt; I tried it back in 2013 and then set it aside. (And maybe that's the best approach to this book: Put it on a shelf and read it 20, 30 or 40 years from now and see what stuck -- see if it really is a solid chronicle of the undoing/unwinding of the so-called American Dream.) I think it's a great book that's somewhat burdened by its own sense of portent and concept. There's a lot here and getting through it feels like one ...more
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Andrew Schirmer
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Conor McAuliffe
Jun 10, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
I did like the book enough to listen to it all. There are about 20 people whose stories are told. Most of the people stories are from non-famous people with exceptions such as Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey and Newt Gingrich.

Each person's story was interesting and the author tells them very nicely. I'm not sure how in total they tell the story about the unwinding of America. I usually read science books and the point behind those stories are explicit and I understand why those books are written and
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I just picked this book up on a whim after seeing it in a used bookstore and reading the book jacket, and I'm certainly glad I did. It is a superb piece of journalism, documenting the "unwinding" of America's institutions through biographical sketches of both ordinary Americans, politicians and celebrities.

The writing is so good, and the book achieves the most sublime goal of journalism: giving you a window into other peoples lives. From Washington lobbyists to Ohio factory workers to tech billi
This did not get off on the right foot with me. It started off in Stokes County, where I know every road and place he names because I was born and raised one county over and have lived here my whole life. When the tone got under my skin in record time— condescension, cliches, the usual— I went to the non-Stokes chapters, and they were worse.

I just can’t do that subtle NPR signaling of “us” and “them” without any attempt at real understanding. Sorry. I’m one of the “them,” and there are too many
Larry Bassett
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, political
This fantastically interesting book goes from the 1980s to 2012. The audible book that I listen to is performed by the author. It is an accessible view of politics and Society for that 30 years. It covers events and people both known and unknown. Coverage of social movements is especially interesting.
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Packer's well-done narrative about the working lives of ordinary Americans, interspersed with brief sketches of celebrities, felt familiar to me, with hints of Studs Terkel's Working. In the last few years, I've read so many books and articles about the sad unwinding of the American dream that I have become somewhat numb. ...more
Conor Ahern
The Unwinding tells a story of where we are in this country, people arrayed against corporate and political interests, mourning the dreams they were peddled, and trying to get by in an increasingly inaccessible marketplace. It's heavy on the anecdote, and seems to be modeled on John Dos Passos' "U.S.A. Trilogy," with every chapter begun with pop culture snippets and the anecdotes occasionally shown to vaguely intertwine.

There's a lot that presages Trump here--Peter Thiel saying that pessimism w
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