Missoula Unwinding is kind of a funny word. You know what it is, something unraveling, rope or wire coming off the spool. It takes a while for it to sink in as a concept or in George Packer’s sense as a statement of the modern condition of the politically and economically fractured America in his National Book Award for nonfiction, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. I had the book sitting on a stack since last Christmas, a gift from my brother, and had thought about reading it several times, but was in no hurry. I had read Packer’s pieces in The New Yorker, and some of them were substantially included in The Unwinding, so I figured, what was my hurry, so much to read and learn, and so little time.
Nonetheless, eleven days off-the-grid without total confidence in my jerry-rigged solar power system had me throwing the book into the extra room in my son’s bag along with what is turning out to be a great book on the revolution in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer called Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua and the new book about Regan and the 1970’s, whose 800 pages, should more than get me home along with my Kindle. The short story is that The Unwinding turns out to be a strange and wonderful book, and that’s not just because it mentions ACORN several times, features as one of its profiles a community organizer from Youngstown, Ohio, looks at Tampa, Florida without blinders, and for that reason alone could be one of my daughter’s favorite books when she reads it, lambasts banks, features the tragedy of workers without work and foreclosures catching families and flippers, and unmasks the transactional, superficial nature of big-time Washington politics. No, it’s not “just because,” but it’s because all of that is in one book painting a stark picture of America without any sugar in the coffee.
And, I didn’t even mention the fact that his piece on Andrew Breitbart is objective, relentless, and unforgiving. Nor did I include the fact that his portrait of tech-master, PayPaler, hedgefunder Peter Thiel and his libertarian makes it seems like Silicon Valley is one long look into an abyss without a bottom, just coreless, valueless, and vapid. Heck, I might as well mention, with ACORN International sitting on a 20,000 gallon per month mobile biodiesel rig in the garage of our new building, Packer at the very end of book gave me a clue at how we might salvage some cash flow to finally make that baby pump some sweet diesel for the people. If I made enough to ever itemize, and this book weren’t a gift, I could deduct it, that’s how valuable it was to me.
John Russo, my colleague and comrade who used to run a center for working class studies at Youngstown State gets some well-deserved props and he and Sherry Linkon clearly had significant influence in Packer’s look at what happens in deindustrialization. Tammy Thomas is the feature of that set of stories, and darned if she doesn’t become a community organizer with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Committee (MVOC), whose organizers I met and worked with a couple of years ago along with Kirk Noden, who continues to do important work with his Ohio organizational formation. I might have recommended this book for organizers just for the section that talks about how much Tammy and some of her members “love actions.” Rarely do we stumble on such kernels of pure truth in mainstream works. Couple that with the profile of the Working Families Party organizer, Nelini Stamp, and her intersection with Occupy Wall Street, and, yes, the anonymous Bill is really our old comrade, Bill Lipton, making a cameo appearance, and you have a book that should be on all of our reading lists.
Maybe the fact that this book won a big award means that some people actually read it. Let’s hope so because this is a book of sad tales and courageous struggle without a happy ending, but an ending that is still in all of our hands and in the making to see if we can rewind what has now been unwound everywhere in America.