National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2013
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. Includes bonus content read by the author.
©2013 George Packer (P)2013 Macmillan Audio
I am an avid listener. I listen between 75-100 hours per month on my iPhone: 60% fiction to 40% non-fiction.
I really like the way Packer has attempted to make his points about how America has unwound. He has chosen to pick out of number of personalities and historical figures that we know and other folks we don't and wind them around each other in a cohesive contemporary history tale.
If you like history, you will like this book. However, if you are a memoir fan you will not because he skims the surface of people and there are personalities you may not like or agree with. Also, if you are fiction reader lover an only tolerate history you should pass.
I think that Robert Fass did a nice job narrating, his voice is pleasant enough. I think this book could have benefited from editing; maybe as much as 1/3 could be lopped off. With all that said, I do recommend this book to the history buff and for both liberals and conservatives.
I am not a writer of reviews, but I could not let the low ratings for this book stand unopposed! In "The Unwinding," George Packer follows the lives of a variety of people, as a way to clarify wildly opposing viewpoints about what has happened in American society this last century. Here is history told as vividly as the best fiction, and it won my sympathy for people I would be unlikely to meet. A few high-profile people (like Oprah) come into the narrative. But some of the most revealing chapters cover U.S. citizens who seek meaning and success, work hard, "do everything right," and rarely make the headlines. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone, with any political belief, who is trying to make sense of what it means to live in the U.S.A.!
This is a book that simply follows a few people through the years. Some are known, like Oprah, but most are not. It works through the political changes and the Housing Bubble, the loss of good jobs and the rise of corporate power. There are parts I skipped, but it is easy to pick up somewhere down the line. Most of it is not very pleasant, but maybe if people would think this stuff through, we would make better decisions.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
George Packer drives a stake into America’s heart in “The Unwinding”. American anger, fear, and frustration build in the minds of all—whether Republican, Democrat, Tea Partyer, or Libertarian.
Whether an accolade of private enterprise or government, Packer offers stories of Americans that show American’ belief makes no difference because America is no longer a land of opportunity but a land of greed; not of the free but of the shackled—a risk noted by Thomas Hobbes in the “Leviathan”. The shackles come from society’s failure to protect individuals from the tyranny of special interests. One side argues that it is because of ineffective government–the other side argues it is because of too much government.
The unwinding of the financial crises reflected in the dot-com bubble of 2000-2001 and the 2007-08 sub-prime mortgage crises unfolds in stories told by Packer in this disturbing narrative. America has become a nation of extremes with each extreme using whatever means necessary to deny success of either “tea party”, “libertarian” or “occupy wall street” followers. The consequence is a “do-nothing” congress, an ineffectual President, and a politicized Supreme Court. One is left with fear, anger, and frustration after completing Packer’s diatribe. The only consolation is in history.
America has been in crises before–in 1776, 1789, 1865, 1929, 1941, 1951, 1967-68, 2001. Americans survived before; Americans will survive again but how angry Americans are, and how frustrating it is to watch America muddle along while Congress fails to act.
Nostalgia, reality, mean streets ... the cumulative sweep and power of this book knocked me out. Dozens of interwoven characters, themes, as challenging as the best of mysteries. How did we wind up in a landscape of fast food and bad vibes? The clues are all here.
Letting the rest of the world go by
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 there is nothing left to the imagination for me to understand. This book was different.
I can understand how the financial disaster affected lives and the author tells those stories marvelously. But he also tells other stories. For example, I'm not sure why he was so apologetic for Colin Powell's speech at the UN for recommending war with Iraq.
Overall, if your like me and need to be told why the things you are reading are important in totality, this book might not be as good to you as it is to others.
The story of how America has become unwound since 1960 was one that helped to open my eyes and focus my thoughts about how our country has changed in my lifetime.
As a collection of stories about the lives of ordinary people, it paints a pretty vivid picture of how we have arrived at this point in time. One wonders how we can undo the grim momentum of greed and ignorance. Maybe books like this can help more Americans understand our current predicament.
Great presentation of the last few decades and the politics and economic issues Americans face.
America is on the decline, thus the unwinding. It's systematic and not caused by one party or person. But it is happening. I was very impressed with the many and diverse people the author uses to make his point. Every class and race is represented. We are all affected.
I didn't feel that it was biased, which I appreciate. Very impressive style of writing!
An author to watch!
I would enthusiastically recommend this book to friends (and enemies, too). Although I lived through all the decades described in the book, I only experienced my little corner of history. This book opened my eyes to the big picture. Not only that, in doing so, it helped me understand on a much more organic basis the connections between historical events and their effects on people outside (and inside) my community. In short, it educated me, in a most engrossing way, about how to think critically and the absolute importance of integrity in our social and political dealings. Unfortunately, that integrity is sorely lacking in contemporary life.
The structure. The book embodies the concept of unwinding threads from a tapestry.
I wouldn't think of the people described in the book as "characters" as they actually live/lived. They all are fascinating. However, because of similarities in background, temperament, and geography, I was drawn most strongly to Dean Price.
The book has a cumulative effect. As it unwinds its stories, you are drawn in every more deeply. By the end of the book, that effect packs a wallop.
One of the best books I have ever read.
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