Written on February 5th, 2015
Written on January 8th, 2015
NYTimes review: “This book hums – with sorrow, outrage and compassion.”- #8 Best-seller
GEORGE PACKER has written a remarkable book, THE UNWINDING: An Inner History of the New America. In it, he argues that seismic economic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, leaving the social contract in pieces and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. Packer sees America as a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer relevant. We’ve covered a lot of this ground before on Free Forum, but the power of THE UNWINDING is in how Packer tells his truth.
He begins – “No one can say when the unwinding began – when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way. Like any great change, the unwinding began at countless times, in countless ways – and at some moment the country, always the same country, crossed a line of history and became irretrievably different. If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding.”He follows the prologue with a series of newsreel headlines in the fateful year of 1978 and goes on to combine the intimate stories of several Americans–Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers in the rural South who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in Youngstown trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider bouncing between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire with a radical vision of the future–with biographical sketches of this era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics, Packer captures the flow of events and undercurrents that have set America in decline.
Publisher’s site for The Unwinding
Though Atul Gawande is a best-selling author, a Harvard professor, and an innovator in best practices for the W.H.O., he still performs 250-plus surgeries a year. A framed copy of Sylvia Plath's poem "The Surgeon at 2 a.m." stands on the desk in his office." Her surgeon's words: "I worm and hack in a purple wilderness." Gawande likes the Plath poem because it casts the surgeon in an ambiguous light.
"Most writing about people in medicine casts them as either heroes or villains," he says, "That poem captures the surgeon as a merely human, slightly bewildered and benighted person in a world that is ultimately beyond his control."
Medicine is just one area of our world that is becoming so complex that even the most expert professionals struggle to master the tasks they face. In his new book, The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande offers a disarmingly simple remedy: the checklist. Now being adopted in hospitals, the 90 second practice cuts fatalities In surgery by more than a third.
NOTE: This interview was recorded when Gawande was recently in LA, prior to Obama's healthcare summit and the latest legislative negotiations.