Last best hope America in crisis and renewal

George Packer, 1960-

Book - 2021

2020: A ruthless pandemic, an inept and malign government response, polarizing protests, and an election marred by conspiracy theories left many citizens in despair about their country and its democratic experiment. Packer explores four narratives that now dominate American life: Free America, which imagines a nation of separate individuals and serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy; Smart America, the world view of Silicon Valley and the professional elite; Real America, the white... Christian nationalism of the heartland; and Just America, which sees citizens as members of identity groups that inflict or suffer oppression. He shows that none of these narratives can sustain a democracy: we must look for a common American identity and find it in the passion for equality that Americans of diverse persuasions have held for centuries. -- adapted from jacket

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2nd Floor New Shelf 973.933/Packer (NEW SHELF) Due May 31, 2022
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Subjects
Genres
Social sciences
Published
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2021.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Item Description
"Portions of this work originally appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker." --Title page verso.
Physical Description
226 pages ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 221-224).
ISBN
9780374603663
0374603669
Main Author
George Packer, 1960- (author)
  • Prologue
  • Strange defeat
  • Four Americas
  • Equal America
  • Equalizers
  • Make America again
  • Epilogue.
Review by Booklist Reviews

National Book Award–winner Packer explains our current political tensions as the collision of four incompatible narratives about what makes the U.S. special. "Free America" clings to libertarian ideals but downplays vital civic commitments. "Smart America" promises meritocracy but resists attachments to communities. "Real America" celebrates patriotism and populism but indulges racism and xenophobia. "Just America," deep-rooted and ascendant, pushes for social justice but thrives on toxic disillusionment. What's missing from today's discourse, suggests Packer, is a robust shared story about equality, an ideal that has long shaped American self-understanding even when profoundly broken. If we want functional self-governance, he says, we need to reboot the conversation about equality. For inspiration, he points to writer Harriet Jacobs, journalist Horace Greeley, and activist Frances Perkins, each an agent of change in the service of American equality. To some extent, this answers questions about American identity that Packer posed in The Unwinding (2013). But Packer's optimism has been rattled by four years of Trumpism and a botched response to COVID-19, and this book is both an argument and a plea. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

National Book Award winner Packer (The Unwinding) argues that to address their current malaise, Americans must get beyond four suffocating narratives: Libertarian America's focus on individuals determining their own fate while cozying up to corporations; Cosmopolitan America's failure to acknowledge that globalization disenfranchises many residents; Diverse America, which sees the country in terms of identity groups that have inflicted or suffered oppression; and White America, whose misconceived nationalism poses the greatest challenge to democracy. With a 100,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The latest by National Book Award winner Packer (The Unwinding) is not the embedded journalism readers have come to expect from him. Instead, he offers an incisive extended essay exploring the current period in U.S. history: at the end of the Trump presidency, in the midst of a global pandemic, and grappling with a racial justice reckoning of a scale not seen since the 1960s. With help from the works of Alexis de Tocqueville, and a critical eye, Packer lays bare large-scale issues plaguing American society and pulls no punches. In his view, there are "Four Americas" pulling the country in different directions: "Free America," "Smart America," "Real America," and "Just America." Packer's persuasive thesis is that these four groups represent fissures within American society that stand in the way of a better country. The latter part of the book uses historical narratives, like those of slavery abolitionist Horace Greeley and Great Depression labor secretary Frances Perkins, to illustrate that the United States has been in dark places before and survived. VERDICT Packer extends an evaluative eye towards every corner of the United States and offers a path for recovery and renewal. A thought-provoking work recommended for history, sociology, and politics readers everywhere.—Keith Klang, Port Washington P.L., NY Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Warring tribes are tearing the country apart, according to this conflicted meditation on America's discontents. National Book Award winner Packer (The Unwinding) parses the uproar of 2020 in terms of four competing "narratives" of America: the "Free America" of the Republican elite, composed of antigovernment conservatives; the "Smart America" of the liberal, globalist professionals, academics, and journalists who make up the Democratic establishment; the "Real America" of Trump's base of xenophobic white populists; and the "Just America" of "social justice warriors" who see white supremacism everywhere. All these visions, Packer argues, skirt the central problem of economic inequality, and he sketches a vague program of progressive economic and welfare policies, plus mandatory national service, as a means of defusing sociocultural antagonisms. Packer presents sharp, insightful critiques of all sides—for many white, well-educated progressives, he writes, "confessing racial privilege is a way to hang on to class privilege"—but occasionally slips into melodrama: a neighbor's Trump campaign sign reminds him of "an evil shape in a far more serious red and black." Worse, his economic determinism rarely addresses the substance of divisive issues such as immigration, transgender rights, and policing. This eloquent yet unfocused take on American politics further muddies the waters. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (June) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A National Book Award-winning author examines America's current descent into a failed state and discusses the ways we can leverage this moment to forge a new path forward that overcomes injustice, legislative paralysis, and political divides.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A National Book Award-winning author examines America’s current descent into a failed state and discusses the ways we can leverage this moment to forge a new path forward that overcomes injustice, legislative paralysis and political divides. 100,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

One of The New York Times's 100 notable books of 2021"[George Packer's] account of America’s decline into destructive tribalism is always illuminating and often dazzling." —William Galston, The Washington PostAcclaimed National Book Award-winning author George Packer diagnoses America’s descent into a failed state, and envisions a path toward overcoming our injustices, paralyses, and dividesIn the year 2020, Americans suffered one rude blow after another to their health, livelihoods, and collective self-esteem. A ruthless pandemic, an inept and malign government response, polarizing protests, and an election marred by conspiracy theories left many citizens in despair about their country and its democratic experiment. With pitiless precision, the year exposed the nation’s underlying conditions—discredited elites, weakened institutions, blatant inequalities—and how difficult they are to remedy.In Last Best Hope, George Packer traces the shocks back to their sources. He explores the four narratives that now dominate American life: Free America, which imagines a nation of separate individuals and serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy; Smart America, the world view of Silicon Valley and the professional elite; Real America, the white Christian nationalism of the heartland; and Just America, which sees citizens as members of identity groups that inflict or suffer oppression. In lively and biting prose, Packer shows that none of these narratives can sustain a democracy. To point a more hopeful way forward, he looks for a common American identity and finds it in the passion for equality—the “hidden code”—that Americans of diverse persuasions have held for centuries. Today, we are challenged again to fight for equality and renew what Alexis de Tocqueville called “the art” of self-government. In its strong voice and trenchant analysis, Last Best Hope is an essential contribution to the literature of national renewal.