In his bold and illuminating U.S.A. trilogy, novelist John Dos Passos put together an urbane and penetrating picture of America in the 1930s. George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, has written a similar work for our own times. He begins with these words:
"No one can say when the unwinding began — when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way. Like any great change, the unwinding began at countless times, in countless ways — and at some moment the country, always the same country, crossed a line of history and became irretrievably different."
Here we can follow the path of America's unraveling over a four decade period of descent into political chaos dominated by special interest lobbies; into economic decline for the middle-class and the poor; into the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots; and into the shredding of the social contract in a hundred different ways. Packer lets the voices of Americans convey the selfishness, the insipidness, and the moral rot of these times.
There are the voices of Dean Price who tries to make his mark in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider; Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire; a longtime Joe Biden staffer; and the city of Tampa and its woes.
Chiming in are the following public figures who represent a cross-cut of cultural perspectives: Raymond Carver, Elizabeth Warren, Sam Walton, Newt Gingrich, Robert E. Rubin, Colin L. Powell, Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, Alice Waters, and Andrew Breitbart.
One of the major messages of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America is the shadow side of freedom. Independent but on their own, citizens have become disconnected from each other and from the Great Work of mending the broken world.