Update: George Packer’s “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” was announced the 2013 National Book Award winner for nonfiction.
The story of inequality in the United States has been told, quantified and debated with increasing frequency in recent years. The issue has become one of the centerpieces of New York City’s mayoral campaign, as well as the subject of a new documentary spotlighting the advocacy efforts of former Secretary of Labor,
Yet for the most part, the story has been one told in numbers and graphs and voiced by economists, journalists and politicians. By contrast, “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” is an intimately woven portrait of America’s social and economic upheavals over the past decades, told through the eyes of individuals who lived them . George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker and award-winning author, said he chose to write the book in narrative form in order to “create a portrait of the past generation of America,” rather than add to the ongoing policy debate.
“It’s a political book, but it’s really a book about people and about how they have been undermined and have tried to react and remake themselves in the middle of all this upheaval,” Packer told MetroFocus’ Rafael Pi Roman in an interview. As such, “The Unwinding,” a finalist for the 2013 National Book Awards, weaves together hundreds of hours of interviews to paint a decades-long picture of haves and have-nots across the country.
The “unwinding” of which Packer speaks is not simply an economic unraveling. The book widely documents the collapse of institutions and social structures which historically acted as “glue to hold us together.”
“I mean the end of a deal that used to exist among Americans that basically said if you hold down a job, if you educate your kids, there’s a place for you in society; there’s a secure economic place, there’s a better future for your children, and you’re sort of recognized as part of a fabric. And I think in the last generation, that deal has come undone,” said Packer.
Packer likens the massive social and economic disruptions to global warming – an omnipresent issue with myriad problems and solutions.
“It’s there all the time, and yet it’s so vast that we seem unable to actually begin to slow it down and reverse it,” Packer said. “But I think it is reversible if we want to.”