Book Review: The Unwinding

by Ben Perreira

I heard about George Packer’s The Unwinding from a few sources – appearances on The Daily Show and Bill Maher, and a few articles. Packer is a great interview and has an interesting point-of-view. His book did not disappoint.

Structure: Each chapter in The Unwinding follows one person or place through a series of life experiences. Many of these repeat throughout the book. The timeline is not perfectly chronological, or seemingly logical at the outset; it is more of a collage than a narrative.

Prose: This is a fiction lover’s work on nonfiction. Packer infuses each chapter with subtle colloquialisms that make the reader feel like he is actually conducting the interviews. 

Content: What makes this book such a great read is how well it lends itself to interpretation. It covers politics, history, finance, labor, technology, entertainment, and more mostly with a reporter’s perspective. The author’s perspective comes in how he strings together these stories together.

Conclusions: Packer accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish, which is to describe the erosion of American institutions and show how American culture has contributed to that. He shows how Americans subscribe to the American Dream while making policy and purchase decisions that undermine the pillars that hold it up. The reader is left with a breath of fresh air – we were once great, things have changed, we are partially responsible for those changes, and we can be great again if we allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes.