April 16, 2014

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"Unwinding": the Power and Limitations of Story

In his remarkable new book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), George Packer sets out to describe "the vertigo of that unwinding" which has affected virtually every aspect of American life since the 1960s. "You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape - the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools. And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition - ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere." Packer, looking back over the past couple of generations, writes in the book's prologue, "The norms that made the old institutions useful began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts."