Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” as Want to Read:
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  9,695 ratings  ·  1,276 reviews
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’ Ga ...more
Kindle Edition, 449 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Unwinding, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
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)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Rating details
Sort: Default
|
Filter
Miles
May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Melanie
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Ted
”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
...more
Gary  the Bookworm
This so depressing (7/13/14):
http://www.alternet.org/some-point-pr...

Maybe some positive news (5/8/14):
http://www.alternet.org/economy/rober...

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
...more
D.A.
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
...more
Trish
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
Max
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
·Karen·
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
Michael
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
Holly
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads, audio
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
Emily
Jun 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Dana Stabenow
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,
...more
Laura Leaney
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
"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
...more
Scott Rhee
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
...more
Steve Smits
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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
...more
Andrew
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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
Larry Bassett
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political, history
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.
Ryandake
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
...more
Adam
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Conor
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
...more
Sarah
Jun 23, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
...more
Edan
Feb 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book devastated and educated me about the changes in America in the last 40 years. It's phenomenal. I just finished writing a piece on The Millions about the third person, and had I read this before that, I would have suggested Packer's book as his voice and writing style alters with each new person he's writing about and following--it's lovely.

I thought a couple of the passages about famous people were dripping with a bit too much cynicism for my taste; the one on Oprah was just plain mean
...more
Moira Crone
Jun 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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.
Jeremy
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives
  • Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
  • Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House
  • The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
  • The Great Divergence
  • The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
  • The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
  • Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami
  • The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era
  • Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
  • Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield
  • After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead
  • The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth
  • The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire
  • Age of Fracture
  • Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
  • Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces
  • Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future
“Some nights he sat up late on his front porch with a glass of Jack and listened to the trucks heading south on 220, carrying crates of live chickens to the slaughterhouses—always under cover of darkness, like a vast and shameful trafficking—chickens pumped full of hormones that left them too big to walk—and he thought how these same chickens might return from their destination as pieces of meat to the floodlit Bojangles’ up the hill from his house, and that meat would be drowned in the bubbling fryers by employees whose hatred of the job would leak into the cooked food, and that food would be served up and eaten by customers who would grow obese and end up in the hospital in Greensboro with diabetes or heart failure, a burden to the public, and later Dean would see them riding around the Mayodan Wal-Mart in electric carts because they were too heavy to walk the aisles of a Supercenter, just like hormone-fed chickens.” 4 likes
“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.” 3 likes
More quotes…