Back in 2005, George Packer published The Assassin’s Gate, the near-definitive account of how the American invasion of Iraq devolved from poorly-planned adventure to hallucinatory nightmare. His newest book, The Unwinding, is about another kind of disaster that should have been foreseen: The unraveling of the institutions, standards, and norms of American society. It’s a sprawling oral history of the empty promises of consumerist individuality (the suburban sprawl of the mind) that pulsates with rage and sadness but also stabs of optimism.
My essay on Packer’s book, “Free to Be Depressed and Alone,” was published today at The Millions. Here’s part of it:
That keen sense of loss and cloudy chaos rings chime-like through The Unwinding. Packer starts each chapter with a cacophony of voices plucked from a particular year’s media stream. Then the oral histories themselves show people thrashing about as they always have — for careers, for love, for purpose, for the damn rent — only increasingly without any help from a larger society. Unions decline, families fall apart, executives break the company apart for a stock dividend, and politicians cower in terror of the almighty bond market…
The Unwinding went on sale this week. NPR has an excerpt of the book here.