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Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade Hardcover – November 10, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Packer (The Assassins' Gate), staff writer for the New Yorker, creates an illuminating time capsule for a decade book-ended by the September 11 attacks and Barack Obama's rise to the presidency. Comprising previously published pieces, the book spotlights the biggest news—and blunders—in recent history as well as Packer's ability to ferret out important stories, perspectives and subjects elsewhere (e.g., a Sudanese intellectual and mystic hanged for sedition and apostasy who could have provided a nonviolent way forward for political Islam). Closer to home, a piece on stylistic differences between Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primaries is impressively timeless and could conceivably be consulted by historians in the next century. Packer's vivid scene setting and rich language are punctuated with flashes of mischief and humor, as when he ascribes Americans' political complacency to their seduction by iced latte, mutual fund, and The Sopranos. Despite the breadth of his topics, each essay is distinguished by its telling details and the depth of its insight. (Nov.)
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“George Packer is a modern-day George Orwell. Like the author of Homage to Catalonia, the places he writes about are never stages for personal or ideological heroism. They are always real and full of frustrating facts that expose both liberal and conservative absolutism as reckless attempts to deny reality. Interesting Times should be read not just as an antidote to contemporary media poison, but as a testament to the values of moral seriousness in a troubled age.” ―Jed Lipinski, The Village Voice
“This volume coheres better than most in the genre. That's because Packer has a far more coherent worldview than most reporters . . . Interesting Times seems an inapt title, ironic and detached in ways that Packer is simply not. But his is the good kind of attachment, self-aware and self-reflective. He writes, 'One can only be honest about having a point of view while remaining open to aspects of reality--the human faces and voices--that might demolish it.' In his best work, reality is haunting, indeed.” ―Franklin Foer, The New York Times Book Review
“In reading [Packer] we see the staggering gap between abstract ideas and concrete reality.” ―Fareed Zakaria on THE ASSASSINS' GATE, The New York Times Book Review
“Masterful . . . Packer's sketch of the prewar debates is subtle, sharp and poignant . . . His reporting from Iraq was always good, but the book is even better, putting the reader at the side of Walter Benjamin's angel of history, watching helplessly as the wreckage unfolds at his feet.” ―Gideon Rose on THE ASSASSINS' GATE, The Washington Post Book World
“The most complete, sweeping, and powerful account of the Iraq War . . . [Packer] has depicted in stark colors the disillusionment of an entire nation.” ―Keith Gessen on THE ASSASSINS' GATE, New York
“A deftly constructed and eloquently told account of the war's origins and aftermath . . . Packer makes it deeply human and maddeningly vivid.” ―Daniel Kurtz-Phelan on THE ASSASSINS' GATE, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Authoritative and tough-minded.” ―Michiko Kakutani on THE ASSASSINS' GATE, The New York Times
“A book that is not only relevant but discerning and provocative . . . [Packer] offers the vivid detail and balanced analysis that have made him one of the leading chroniclers of the Iraq war.” ―Yonatan Lupu on THE ASSASSINS' GATE, San Francisco Chronicle
Top customer reviews
Great collection of articles that span a number of subjects. I found it to be informative and in many places very well written.
In some ways it is provides these cross sections of some of our culture in that time period.
It was one of these books I couldn't put down until I was finished.
There is a tragic coherence to Packer's worldview. He wants to see the world in clear moral terms like justice and democracy and equality; as a journalist, however, he encounters a complicated and unjust world. (In this regard - liberalism tempered by reality -- Packer is a bit like his literary hero, Orwell.) "Interesting Times" examines the friction between good intentions (the liberation of Iraq, philanthropy in Africa, Iraqis bravely helping Americans) and messy realities (American failures in Iraq, the limitations of philanthropic projects on African lives, Iraqi translators abandoned by the Western media despite their courageous work).
The writing is beautiful. The concepts are refreshing. A great read.
Packer also is embarrassingly unprescient with his laborious centerpiece "The Fall of Conservatism" essay. Phrases such as "both (candidates McCain and Obama) embody a post-polarized . . . style of politics," "the fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican is the last one standing . . . shows how little life is left in the movement Nixon began . . ." clearly don't fit with the Republicans' dramatic resuscitation in 2009 and early 2010 via non-stop rancor directed at the new president and his associates. The Democrats' mid-2000s resurgence, despite widespread belief Republicans would dominate the nation for decades, should have taught everyone the dangers of prematurely burying either party.
Finally, Packer's "Interesting Times" misses the biggest event during the years covered in "Interesting Times" - the obvious weakening of America's economy. Not surprisingly, Packer also misses its three major underlying causes: 1)The off-shoring of millions of jobs to China, India and other Asian nations. 2)Continued corporate delayering, automation, and computerization. 3)Ballooning trade, state and federal deficits and unfunded liabilities. 4)Washington's inability to reason and govern objectively.