America Unwound

Reporter George Packer explains how the erosion of American institutions led to an unwinding of our society.

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Is the unwinding all bad?

The one good thing about it is it has forced people to be creative [and] resourceful in finding their own way. Everyone's more alone than they've ever been, but being alone means you have to fall back on your own abilities. I also think no one can do it alone. I think it's an American illusion to think that people are self-made. There's always a larger society that either helps you or gets in your way.

What will surprise readers most?

The twists and turns in my characters' lives. They're constantly colliding with big historical moments, like the financial crisis. All the characters undergo a kind of upheaval in 2008. There are constant bends in their roads, and they are constantly having to rethink and remake their lives. I hope that there's suspense and surprise at every turn because that's the way human beings are, that's the way life is.

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