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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America Kindle Edition
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|Length: 446 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Packer tells this story by presenting a series of compelling profiles of several individuals: among them a union worker in Youngstown, Ohio, a entrepreneur/bio-fuels evangelist in North Carolina, a D.C. insider, and a Silicon Valley innovator. These profiles follow the progression of their protagonist from the late 70's to the present day. Each story is independent, but all share a common thread: as the institutions that provided security to Americans following the New Deal and into the 70's started to fall apart, each person is forced to deal with their new found freedom. Some thrive, while others struggle to survive.
Interspersed in these longer narratives are shorter profiles of key players in the unwinding, from Newt Gingrich and Andrew Breitbart to Oprah Winfrey and Jay-Z. As he skips ahead in years, each new section is foreshadowed by a collage of words - snippets of movie and music quotes and headlines from newspapers - that Packer uses to expertly capture the mood of each year.
The genius of this book is that Packer doesn't tell you what to think. Instead, he presents indisputable facts by way of the stories of real people to show both sides of this "unwinding." At the end, you can draw your own conclusions. Packer is simply using his amazing powers of shaping narratives to capture this unique time of upheaval in America. It's easy to lose track of the drastic changes that have taken place over the last few decades unless you read a book like this, which captures the transformation of American institutions to American individualism. If you are liberal and mourn the loss of these institutions, Packer will force you to consider the opening of opportunities that came with these losses. If you're conservative and applaud the rise of the rugged individual, he will also make you recognize the price some people have paid due to the loss of security.
I would recommend this book to anyone that sees the change that has happened in the U.S. Although it is never stated, I think Packer is asking his readers a seemingly simple question: what does it mean to be an American, and what do we want this country to be? Is the price of freedom the loss of the common bonds that kept us all together, or is the overriding right to be free paramount to all else? I can guarantee that anyone who finishes this book will have a lot to think about and will have enjoyed reading these profiles.
It's an unwinding that’s been going on for a long time. We have seen it every day in our drive to and from work, to and from school. We have seen it in our papers and on our TV screens. We have lived it. And we have become used to it. We stopped noticing. What George Packer does is force us to pay attention once again.
He shows us the factories closing, the Wal-Marts and the parking lots taking over, the suburbs where no-one ever meets anyone else. The awful aloneness of living in poverty. He tells the story through the eyes of a biodiesel entrepreneur, a Joe Biden staffer and lobbyist, a factory worker turned community organizer. He tells us stories about the founders of the Tea Party and the founders of Occupy Wall Street. He talks about Peter Thiel and Elizabeth Warren and Newt Gingrich.
But most of all he talks about America. About an America where people used to meet each other but don’t anymore, an America where people used to be able to count on schools and roads and hospitals and the government and a job. And how that America slowly disappeared, leaving us poor and alone. Leaving houses that need to be torn down and crumbling roads. Leaving crumbling people.
Except—and this is the amazing thing--the people in these pages don’t crumble. They are sustained by many different things: love of family, religion, a dream but somehow they keep going. This was a very hard book to read because it forced me to see what I look at every day. But in the end, it was worth it because the last sentences of the book are “He still had a dream of building a big white house and filling it with children. He would get the land back.”
In the midst of so much despair and unwinding, it is good (even if painful) to read about people like that.
Through biographies of a few Americans he proves the downside of this thesis. The "stories" run from 1978 to 2012 covering the mortgage crisis, the decline of manufacturing, and money in politics. He believes that the unwinding is a natural occurrence and has happened before. It signifies a decline in trust and belief in traditional institutions that Packer believes underpinned 'the American contract'. This void has now been filled solely by money. It is easy to see Trump's success in this theory.
On a positive note, the theory continues by suggesting good things come out of these unwindings. They eventually bring new energy and cohesion. The downside is they grant greater individual freedom. That freedom makes people more untethered because institutions are in flux. In this flux Packer says the winners win bigger and the losers fall farther.
For the sake of America let's hope the unwinding leads rapidly to cohesion.