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The Unwinding

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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America is a 2013 non-fiction book by the American journalist George Packer. The book uses biographies of individual Americans as a means of discussing important forces in American history from 1978 to 2012, including the subprime mortgage crisis, the decline of American manufacturing, and the influence of money on politics. The Unwinding includes lengthy profiles of five subjects: a Youngstown, Ohio factory worker turned community organizer, a biodiesel entrepreneur from North Carolina, a Washington lobbyist and Congressional staffer, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel, and people involved in the distressed housing market in Tampa, Florida. Interspersed with these longer accounts are ten briefer biographical sketches of famous Americans such as the rapper Jay-Z, the politician Newt Gingrich, and the restaurateur and food activist Alice Waters. In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Packer defined the book's theme as the unraveling of "a contract that said if you work hard, if you essentially are a good citizen, there will be a place for you, not only an economic place, you will have a secure life, your kids will have a chance to have a better life, but you will sort of be recognized as part of the national fabric." The Unwinding follows the decline of a number of American institutions that Packer believes underpinned this contract, including locally owned businesses, unions, and public schools. According to Packer, the "void" left by the decline of these institutions "was filled by the default force in American life, organized money."The book's format and style were inspired by John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy, a series of novels published in the 1930s. Like The Unwinding, the U.S.A. trilogy combined longer narrative accounts of its main characters with short biographies of influential figures of the time period and collections of newspaper headlines and song lyrics.The Unwinding won the 2013 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award.
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date of publication: 2013
genre: non-fiction

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