This is a challenging book. The first part comes from its structure. Packer has divided things into years (the chapter’s cover pages are cool combinations of headlines, song lyrics and otherwise famous words from that year) and found 6-8 people and places to follow throughout those years. In between, he offers brief chapters on the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Warren. But there is no explicit commentary from Packer himself. Then, it becomes evident that he’s trying to match the style of his writing to the person he’s profiling. This can be awkward at times, as with a short section on Jay-Z.

But over time, a thesis emerges. Packer takes aim at the big banks and real estate. He takes aim at the shift in the work ethic of Americans. He finds hope in movements like green energy. He lets some of his subjects speak for him.

Jeff Connaughton, a Biden man (168)  –

[W]hen the cost of certain behaviors diminished, when norms began to erode and disappear that had held people back at least from being garish about the way they made money, the culture changed.


Speaking of the American people in a section centered on Dean Price (177) –

They’d grown dependent on the corporations and lost their independent spirit.

More Connaughton (280) –

[O]ur government has been taken over by a financial elite that runs the government for the plutocracy.


There are signs of hope here. Tammy Thomas’ re-birth as an organizer, Dean Price’s sheer persistence.

But the unwinding has, in Packer’s book, been going on for so long and in such a systematic way, that it seems like it will be a long while before we find our way again.