I picked this book up somewhere, not knowing anything about it except that it looked vaguely interesting compared to the romance novels that were also on the free shelf. It sat in my drawer for months until I was about to head off on a trip. Sometimes I like to bring actual books with me when I travel, so I don’t depend on battery power all day long. I don't keep print books after I’ve read them, so finding another home for a book sometimes leads to an adventure, too.
In this case, I was in Montreal, playing the corporate wife with nothing to do but sightsee. Once I finished the book, I searched out a nice little used bookstore in the Ville-Marie and traded it in for something to read on the way home. (future post on No Logo by Naomi Klein)
While I wasn’t keen on reading this book at first, once I opened it, I couldn’t put it down. Packer is a journalist. Turns out his writing is very engaging. Instead of being a boring fact-filled analysis of the last fifty years of American history, he chose to tell the stories of real Americans - their dreams, their hopes, their journeys. Stories are currency. Humans are made of stories. He’s a good spinner of tales.
His basic premise is that the institutions that guided and protected us: governments, unions, churches, schools, have been unwound. They no longer guide and protect us, instead they have been hollowed out from within or destroyed completely by the power of the corporations and the elite. Slowly and surely, these organizations that were the heart of the American community are just not there anymore. Certainly they exist, but their effectiveness as community structure is gone.
Packer introduces us to a working class woman from Youngstown OH, who must navigate through the factories closing down and her neighborhood rotting, a former tobacco farmer in rural NC turned entrepreneur, watching every business he starts fail, and a DC lawyer who chooses to support a politician who never returns the favor.
Interwoven with the stories of these Americans (real people, I was compelled to Google them), are the stories of Americans who have had impacts on our changing cultural landscape: Sam Walton, Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey and many others. Through these stories, we watch the unions crumble and the government sell us out.
Even though I have lived through this period of American history, I didn’t understand the impact of these changes. The consequences of global trade treaties and of union busting on real people and our social institutions just hadn’t solidified in my mind. This book was a real eye-opener. You should read it. I know where there’s a copy on Rue Stanley.