Reviews for Unwinding : An Inner History of the New America

Book News Reviews
Paints a picture of the last 30 years of life in America by following several citizens, including the son of tobacco farmers in the rural south, a Washington insider who denies his idealism for riches and Silicon Valley billionaire.

Booklist Reviews 2013 March #2
*Starred Review* How have we come to feel that neither the government nor the private sector works as it should and that the shrinking middle class has few prospects of recovering its former glory? Through profiles of several Americans, from a factory worker to an Internet billionaire, Packer, staff writer for the New Yorker, offers a broad and compelling perspective on a nation in crisis. Packer focuses on the lives of a North Carolina evangelist, son of a tobacco farmer, pondering the new economy of the rural South; a Youngstown, Ohio, factory worker struggling to survive the decline of the manufacturing sector; a Washington lobbyist confronting the distance between his ideals and the realities of the nation's capital; and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur pondering the role of e-commerce in a radically changing economy. Interspersed throughout are profiles of leading economic, political, and cultural figures, including Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Raymond Carver, Sam Walton, and Jay-Z. Also sprinkled throughout are alarming headlines, news bites, song lyrics, and slogans that capture the unsettling feeling that the nation and its people are adrift. Packer offers an illuminating, in-depth, sometimes frightening view of the complexities of decline and the enduring hope for recovery. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 April #1
New Yorker writer Packer (Interesting Times: Writing from a Turbulent Decade, 2009, etc.) ranges across the country to chronicle the time when "the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way." "I am the empire at the end of the decadence." Thus said the French poet Mallarmé. Packer describes the decline of America from a very specific time: If you were born half a century ago, around 1960, then, he writes, "you watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape." While forces are picking away at the pillars that still stand (Social Security, public education, privacy, etc.), and while only money seems to matter, the author offers the tiniest comfort in the thought that America has declined and fallen before. Still, this decline seems steeper than those others, save for the Civil War. Among his subjects are the city of Tampa, Fla., which once "was going to be America's Next Great City" but is mired in stagnation and desperation, and a struggling, no-longer-aspirational factory worker named Tammy, one of whose co-workers sagely observes, "Most people wouldn't survive in a factory. Mitt Romney would die in a week." Against these depressed landscapes and people, Packer juxtaposes a few who are doing a bit better: Raymond Chandler, "a drinker" whose lapidary stories of blue-collar America have become classics; Oprah Winfrey, empire builder; and Colin Powell, empire builder of another kind. Packer's repetitive structure--a chapter on Tammy followed by one on Tampa followed by other pieces--hammers home the point that all is not well in America and not likely to get better soon, the promise of "acres of diamonds in Greenville [N.C.]" notwithstanding. Exemplary journalism that defines a sobering, even depressing matter. A foundational document in the literature of the end of America--the end, that is, for the moment. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 March #2

Sometime in the late 1970s, the foundations of the American Century began to unravel. In this trenchant account, New Yorker writer Packer (The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq) charts the erosion of the social compact that kept the country stable and middle class. Readers experience three decades of change via the personal histories of an Ohio factory worker, a Washington political operative, a North Carolinian small businessman, and an Internet billionaire. Their lives follow the ups and downs of a changing country, where manufacturing jobs vanish, businesses thrive and fail, and political fortunes crest and recede. There's a pervasive sense that "nothing was locked down," thanks to the erosion of bank regulations that for 50 years averted the panics, and meltdowns that now push the middle class to the brink. Adroit homages to John Dos Passos's "newsreel" interludes provide astute quips and headlines. Brief biographies of seminal figures that shaped the current state of affairs offer the book's fiercest prose, such as in Packer's brutal takedown of Robert Rubin, secretary of the Treasury during some key 1990s financial deregulation that amplified the severity of the Great Recession of 2008. Packer has a keen eye for the big story in the small moment, writing about our fraying social fabric with talent that matches his dismay. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (May 21)

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