Bucket's Reviews > Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade

Interesting Times by George Packer
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's review
Jul 05, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: culture, essay, history, non-fiction, media, politics, reviewed

This is a collection of essays Packer published during the first decade of this, the 21st, century. For Packer, the decade as a historical period, really began on the morning after September 11th, 2001 and ended on November 4, 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S. The essays Packer chose for this collection are about the war in Iraq, other parts of the world where American influence was felt, "writers at war" (a group of essays focused on literary criticism and the opinions of writers about other writers), and the rise of a new liberalism that led to Obama's election.

Overall, I enjoyed Packer's essays and found the collection to form a pretty cohesive picture, perhaps with the exception of the Writers at War section. Though these essays were also well-written and related well to each other, they were disconnected from the rest of the essays in the book and interupted the general flow from war and American influence around the world to the new rise of liberalism. Perhaps this was purposeful and meant as a little interlude?

Anyway, the rest of the essays were full of depth and each one offered an insight into the state of things just 5-10 years ago. Packer characterizes the Iraq war as a "war for world opinion, a war of ideas" that we were very much losing, in part because we created "a revolution in the lives of Iraqis," releasing them, in effect, from a prison, but having no plan for what to do next and who would lead once they emerged. Packer laments that, unlike other wars and social movements in our history, "the Iraq war has had only the slightest effect on American culture, including pop culture."

My favorite quotation from the book characterizes something that we live daily during our increasingly polarized presidential elections, and that can easily be seen in the variety of contradictory 'facts' we find in the media and online:

"The more confusing and contradictory reality becomes, the more we cling to our fantasies of how things should be; facts, it turns out, can be far less stubborn things than opinions."

Packer goes on to state, in a later essay, that the globalization of media hasn't resulted in the "human bonds that were promised" and "have actually made the world a less understanding, less tolerant place." Situations like Sierra Leone only come to our attention when a journalist writes a story, and even then our solutions are self-focused, such as trying to adopt away child victims from their parents instead of improving conditions in the country.

In discussing our changing political landscape, Packer emphasizes that freedom (cultural freedom under Democrats, economic freedom under Republicans) has been the most important theme since the 1960s. And somewhere along the way the Democrats lost out because voters stopped believing that "government could restore a sense of economic security." Only lately is this belief being revived.

Themes: politics, history, Iraq, U.S. policy, liberalism, public opinion
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Reading Progress

July 5, 2011 – Shelved
October 22, 2012 – Started Reading
October 25, 2012 –
page 12
October 26, 2012 –
page 15
October 30, 2012 –
page 32
November 2, 2012 –
page 54
November 5, 2012 –
page 104
November 6, 2012 –
page 153
November 7, 2012 –
page 161
November 8, 2012 –
page 172
November 12, 2012 –
page 232
November 13, 2012 –
page 244
November 14, 2012 –
page 268
November 15, 2012 –
page 299
November 16, 2012 –
page 317
November 21, 2012 –
page 353
November 25, 2012 – Shelved as: culture
November 25, 2012 – Shelved as: essay
November 25, 2012 – Shelved as: history
November 25, 2012 – Shelved as: non-fiction
November 25, 2012 – Shelved as: media
November 25, 2012 – Shelved as: politics
November 25, 2012 – Shelved as: reviewed
November 25, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie I forgot I wanted to read this! muddled me. Thanks for the reminder.

Bucket Sure! And now - immediately post-election - is great timing. :)

Dawn Look for The Unwinding, due out later this spring.

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