politics | July 30, 2013

An Unwinding American Dream: George Packer On Living In The U.S.A.

The cover of new speaker George Packer's breakthrough new book, The Unwinding, is graced with an American flag. But it's not the emblem of patriotism you'd expect: It's rusty, disintegrating, disheveled. As Packer says on CSPAN: "It's a flag that's in somewhat battered shape, but it's still the flag. So, I thought it was the perfect image for The Unwinding." In what's been called the "defining book of our time," Packer tells the story of the unraveling of America's institutions and the people who are trying to make it in today's hard times.

"[The] things that used to hold America together—structures, institutions, social ties—have frayed, have begun to come undone," Packer explains. Don't look to his book to teach you how to fix these problems, though. "It does not tell you the 10 things wrong with America and how to fix them," Packer stresses. Rather, it reads like a novel, charting the successes and failures of ordinary Americans caught between their own tenaciousness and desire to succeed and the disillusioning world they live in. To tell that study, he points out, he also needed to include what was happening in the top rungs of society. That's where 10 smaller sections of the book, devoted to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Newt Gingrich, Sam Walton, and Jay Z, come in.

The disintegrating middle class is an important component of the last generation of American history. It's something Packer describes as the Walmartization of America. "The six Walton heirs [next in line to the Walmart and Sam's Club corporations] have the same wealth as the bottom 42 percent of Americans," he tells Bloomberg Businessweek. "If you want to get someone’s attention on economic inequality, just throw that one at them and it will do the trick." While swaths of the American population were going into foreclosure and losing their jobs, a small percentage was hitting it big. Often, because they weren't playing by the same tenets that other Americans were. "Jay-Z [for example] has kind of shown that you can get to the very top without waiting, without following rules," he adds. A cynicism developed, people started to feel that doing what they were supposed to made them a sucker, and, didn't help them to succeed. It is in these two conflicting stories—the blue collar Americans struggling to make ends meet and the VIPs of society—that Packer shows us how America is unwinding.

In his sweeping keynotes, Packer delivers a hard-hitting analysis of the American institutions and its people. A bestselling author and respected journalist, he provides a truly unique portrait of life as we know it. To book George Packer as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

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