Books I Love

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America July 17 2014, 0 Comments

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 manages to create a dizzying picture of everything that is inherently wrong in American society today.

While Packer never passes judgement (though you can feel his left-to-center allegiance throughout) and doesn't offer solutions to counter the devastating erosion of the middle class, his moving and vivid descriptions of individuals are an essential indictment in themselves.

The Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote that we were never born equal. We are born unequal, and it is mainly the role of society to equalize our chances and give us the ability to actualize our potential.
If those structures fail to do that (public vs private schools, access to education, access to healthcare, access to financing that is not fraudulent, access to housing), then equality doesn't stand a chance and the social contract evaporates.

While the book's raison d'ĂȘtre is dark and depressing, what seemed to shine through at every turn was the inherent grittiness and deep stubbornness of Americans. If my head was spinning with a sense of despair and helplessness at the end of the book, it was also rejoicing in the fact that there was a fiery desire in all of the characters to push through and find ways to change.

A stunning piece of writing which fuses Bruce Springsteen's blue-collar narratives with Ken Burns' eloquence.