I’ve been a fan of George Packer’s writing for a while so I was interested to read his newest book “The Unwinding”. It is a non-fiction narrative telling the individual stories of Americans navigating a time when they are more on their own. It is an upsetting but worthwhile read.

Through the people he follows Packer explores the last 30 years of America where institutions have faltered, and left many vulernable. The book humanizes and chronicles much-discussed symptoms of income inequality, loss of middle-class jobs, the corruption of Washington, etc. The story of Tammy from Youngtown, Ohio is particuarly compelling. Her personal story reflects Youngstown’s difficult history, and is a challenge for those who would propose simple solutions. Packer does not set out to solve the issues he sees, but rather more clearly illustrate them. He revisits the failing of large institutions – business, government, banks – but in his storytelling there is also a frequent absence of extended family, church or community groups.

The power of this book is the vividness of the story-telling, and giving a face to a set of problems we all see. I tend to agree with Brooks’ that our politcs hasn’t caught up to reality. There are many proposals that would not have been out of place 20 years ago, and the rehashing of threadbare arguments (e.g. big govt vs small govt). I hope this partly informs what needs to be solved.

I’d recommend the book. Packer has also given several good talks on his book tour such this one at Google.