~posted by Carl K.
George Packer has a disconcerting point of view about the United States. The New Yorker journalist, who will be the speaker for The Seattle Public Library’s 2014 A. Scott Bullitt American History Lecture, looks through the lens of individual Americans to see the state of the nation in his book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.
Is the United States a nation on the rise or on the decline? The book’s title tells the conclusion—we are not winding our way up; we are unwinding. Loosely based on the John Dos Passos’ Depression-era classic fiction trilogy, U.S.A., Packer’s nonfiction look at a new America tells the story by giving portraits of people ranging from the working poor to fabulously wealthy and privileged people, stopping off to briefly sketch celebrity icons and give context through cultural markers like headlines, song lyrics and advertising.
The technique of seeing a larger view of society by assembling individual lives goes back further than Chaucer’s Pilgrims, and was a bestselling concept as recently as Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America, a 1998 look at the struggling side of society. Like Ehrenreich, Packer weaves brief sections of analysis through his book, assisting us in seeing his observed transformations of our America. These include a charge that the nation’s leaders abandoned their posts as norms changed, creating a “void that was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.” And so the Unwinding happens, “when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way.” Wrapped up in the tales are his views on a failed elite, widening economic inequalities and an unraveling national fabric.
Vividly told, we see a society that ranges from billionaire Sam Walton to a fella that couldn’t hold his shelf stocker job at Walmart, and from D.C. politicos and lobbyists to tobacco farmers turned biofuel entrepreneurs.
For more on this writer, here is a list of Packer’s works in the Library catalog.
George Packer will speak about the crossing of this historical line as he discusses his book at the The 2014 A. Scott Bullitt Lecture in American History on Monday, September 29, 2014, 7–8:30 p.m. at Town Hall | 1119 Eighth Ave. (8th & Seneca) Seattle WA 98101, two blocks from the Central Library.