The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Anglais) Broché – 4 mars 2014
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'Original, incisive, courageous, and essential. One of the best works of nonfiction I've read in years.' --Katherine Boo, Samuel Johnson-prize shortlisted author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers
'George Packer serves us the history of our own life and times in a magisterial look at the America we lost.' -- Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower and Going Clear
'The Unwinding is the extraordinary story of what s happened to our country over the past thirty years. George Packer gives us an intimate look into American lives that have been transformed by the dissolution of all the things that used to hold us together. The result is an epic wondrous, bracing, and true that will stand as the defining book of our time.' -- Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War
'The Unwinding presents a big, gorgeous, sad, utterly absorbing panorama of the relentless breakdown of the American social compact over a generation. George Packer communicates the scope and the human experience of the enormous change that is his subject better than any writer has so far.' -- Nicholas Lemann, author of Redemption and The Promised Land
'The hearts and lives broken in this second great depression have now found their eloquent voice and fierce champion in George Packer. The Unwinding is an American tragedy and a literary triumph.' -- David Frum, author of Why Romney Lost and Patriots: A Novel
'George Packer has crafted a unique, irresistible contraption of a book. Not since John Dos Passos's celebrated U.S.A. trilogy, which The Unwindingrecollects and rivals, has a writer so cunningly plumbed the seething undercurrents of American life. The result is a sad but delicious, jazz-tempo requiem for the demise of the post-World War II American social contract. You will often laugh through your tears at these tales of lives of ever less quiet desperation in a land going ever more noisily berserk.' -- David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Freedom From Fear and Over Here
.'As with George Orwell, each of Packer's sentences carries a pulse of moral force. This is a sweeping and powerful book that everyone should read.'--David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .
Présentation de l'éditeur
Just over a decade into the new millennium, America is beset by a sense of crisis. The seismic shifts that occurred in the space of a generation have created a country of winners and losers, leaving the social contract in pieces. In The Unwinding, George Packer narrates the story of America over the past three decades, bringing to the task his empathy with people facing difficult challenges, his sharp eye for detail and a gift for weaving together engaging narratives.
The Unwinding moves deftly back and forth through the lives of half a dozen characters, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the industrial Midwest trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington careerist; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire. The narrative alternates these intimately told stories with biographical sketches of the era's leading public figures, from Oprah Winfrey to Steve Jobs, capturing the year-by-year flow of events. The Unwinding portrays a superpower coming apart at the seams, its elites and institutions no longer working, leaving ordinary people to improvise their own schemes for salvation.--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .
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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.
Through a series of glimmering short essays, Packer has put together a story of how wealth has concentrated itself in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, and the first decade of the 21st. One lesson most of us learned about the Great Depression was that the wealthy, by themselves, could not sustain the U.S. economy in 1932. One commentator wrote that every person making over $100,000 would have had to buy 32 cars in order to stave off the economic consequences of the 1929 stock market crash. On the contrary, the lesson drawn by Packer about the 2008 Great Recession is that today, the wealthy are so wealthy they can indeed sustain the U.S. economy almost by themselves. This staggering conclusion is brought home to readers in Packer's brief but luminous essay on Sam Walton where he writes that six of Walton's descendants had as much money as 30% of the least well off Americans. The story of how America's other top income earners fared until the onset of The Great Recession is told in the essay on Robert Rubin: the top 1% of wage earners saw their incomes triple. People in the middle enjoyed a 20% income increase, people at the bottom had flat income which means on an inflation adjusted basis, they lost money. For his part, Robert Rubin argued against regulation of derivatives. Then, after derivatives killed America in 2008, Robert Rubin argued against any responsibility. When a Congressional investigator told Rubin he couldn't have it both ways, Robert Rubin hurriedly left the room. Stop the cameras, stop the book. The fact that Robert Rubin was allowed to leave the room comes off as a major thesis of this book.
The gap between what Americans have and what they cheer for is another layer of Packer's analysis, although the book's commentary is somehow less successful when ordinary Americans like Tammy Thomas and Dean Price are Packer's subjects and I was less willing to follow their stories than I was when household name personalties like Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich were under Packer's microscope and his work on them seemed spellbinding.
This is a deeply unsettling book, and in the end, Unwinding seems an inappropriate description for it - The Great Adjustment seems more specifically geared to what actually took place in the country - those with more struggle to adjust to unfathomable wealth, those with less struggling with their new reality.
What has replaced them, per Packer, is financial engineering, an environment of organized money in which six of Sam Walton's heirs now have as much money as the bottom 30% (94.5 million) of Americans, and the hollowing out of the heartland because it was good for corporate bottom-lines. His principal villain is the banking industry, which he contends has preyed on Americans lacking financial astuteness and restraint. Our American ideals involving fairness and opportunity for all have become undermined by unregulated capitalism.
I was particularly struck by the story of Tammy Thomas, a young black woman brought up in extremely adverse circumstances (mother repeatedly jailed for drugs, check fraud, and aggravated robbery, father AWOL), with numerous friends lacking ambition to lift themselves out of generations on welfare, and her own newborn while still in high-school. Nonetheless, she graduated on time (first in her family), acquired an associates' degree (and two more children), and got off welfare with a $7.30/hour job in a factory making wiring harnesses for G.M.
Unfortunately, Tammy not only picked the wrong parents, but also the wrong location and timing of her birth, as well as her brothers (on the front lines of a gang turf war over selling crack). When she was 11, Youngstown's largest steel mill shut down (9/23/77) with four days advance notice. From the 1920s until 1977, 25 uninterrupted miles of steel mils ran along the Mahoning River. Smaller factories had been closing throughout the 1970s, and a Harvard study found that even a billion in renovations wouldn't be enough to make the mills competitive. Over the next five years, every other major steel plant shut down. Between 1975 and 1985, 50,000 jobs left town, and probably the U.S. as well. The population fell by one-third, and in the late 1980s and 1990s, Youngstown became 'Murdertown.' (At least half her high-school classmates ended up dead, in jail, or on drugs.) Before getting laid off herself (jobs being shipped to Juarez), Tammy developed asthma from repeatedly dipping copper wires into molten lead) that sometimes required hospitalization, got carpal tunnel syndrome ('Packard hands') that prevented working sometimes for over a month) also became a layoff statistic after 19 years. However, rather than simply stay home and 'rot,' Tammy became a community organizer battling blight, while her daughters did not get pregnant, her son stayed out of the gangs, and they all graduated from high school and went on to college. Tammy went back to college as well, at age 40 she obtained a BA in sociology, with a minor in non-profit management.
After paying taxes on her buyout money in 2007 (the one-third remaining would take a 40% cut - to $13.50/hour in Tammy's case), Tammy had $82,000 left (and no pension), spending part to help he mother and children and the rest into a CD paying 3%. A relative by marriage who had helped Tammy and her husband finance their house offered to invest her money in real estate, promising 10% annual return - Tammy gave him her last $48,000. By 2009 the housing market was sliding and the payments stopped coming. Tammy is currently running a statewide campaign to broaden health care for seniors, children, and the disabled in Ohio.
Then there's Oprah, Tammy's counterpart who also grew up with the odds against her. Her 40 million viewers have things she doesn't - children, debts, and spare time, they consume the products she advertises but would never buy (Maybelline, Jenny Craig, IKEA), and she would thrill them by sometimes selecting one and wiping out her debts or buying her a house. But Oprah's magical thinking (vaccinations cause autism; positive thoughts lead to wealth, love and success) could be hard to swallow. And since there was no random suffering in life, Oprah left them with no excuses.
Robert Rubin was Wall Street's 'wise man' for the Clinton administration, preaching the gospel of deregulation. He then garnered $126 million between 1999 and 2009 for his advice to Citigroup (Chairman of its Executive Committee), and when both Citigroup (lost $65billion) and the economy collapsed due to the lack of regulation he fomented, he makes no apology to anyone.
Bottom-Line: 'The Unwinding' is not a fun read - nobody enjoys learning how hard-working, honest people became frustrated by the actions of others far above them in the economic strata; just as bad, is reading about how formerly vibrant communities became economic disaster zones. Nonetheless, Packer's work highlights a thesis we need to reconsider - that what's good for Wall Street must also be good for Main Street.
The fact-gathering, as others here have mentioned, is impressive, especially the facts about the individuals, their stories. Facts regarding the overarching events as they unfolded, I think, fall into two categories. The first, successful, informs the reader about certain places and times in America where the world essentially fell apart and how that "unwinding" or unraveling, affected real people; and if you aren't from those locales, Packer is rendering a great service to you - now you know what happened in __________ (location and time) which you didn't know before.
The second, however, regards the lead-up to the financial meltdown that culminated in the 2008 catastrophe and its aftermath. This portion brings little that is new, is sketchy, and certainly anything but comprehensive regarding the causes or the policy responses. No doubt Packer didn't set out to write a blow by blow history or analysis of the meltdown - his time frame is much longer and begins much earlier - but for a reader who does not live and breathe public policy or economics, this portiion of the book is wanting.
The book succeeds in creating a psychological feeling in the reader that things are scary bad. It's what I call an "ain't it awful" book. I had read roughly two-thirds of it, hoping that Packer had something revelatory waiting for me around the next corner (it naver came). I kept thinking, "there must be a point to all this" laying out of personal stories of the lowly and the high-flying people portrayed in the book. Even as I was reading the last half-dozen pages, I was hoping for that - but was disappointed.
Books that leave a vivid emotional mark on readers have a purpose, but this one unfortunately left this reader with the feeling that not only are things awful, but there is no hope. I wonder if Packer was seeking that outcome, or was it just an unintended consequence.
This non fiction book is more like a book of short stories than a novel. And sometimes switching back and forth from one character to another can be disconcerting. However the individual profiles are often brilliant. There is a wild mix of characters including an idealistic lawyer who eventually morphs into a lobbyist; a businessman who tries to start a company making renewable energy; a single mother of three trying to hold onto one of the last union jobs in Youngstown Ohio before it is shipped off to Mexico. And we met celebrities like Oprah, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
In terms of style the book is in some ways an homage to John Dos Passos, using news headlines to fix the time and place for readers.
This is a very valuable snapshot, or series of snapshots, about the current state of affairs in America.