George Packer

Cindy Seip

George Packer is an author and staff writer at The Atlantic. His previous books include The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, winner of the National Book Award; The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq; and Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. In 2020, a ruthless pandemic, an inept and malign government response, polarizing protests, and an election undermined by conspiracy theories left many citizens in despair about their country. The events exposed the nation’s underlying conditions – discredited elites, weakened institutions, blatant inequalities – and how difficult they are to fix. In Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Packer explores four narratives now dominating American life: Free America, which imagines a nation of separate individuals and serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy; Smart America, the 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. None of these narratives, Packer argues, can sustain a democracy. Looking for a common American identity, he finds it in the passion for equality. The Washington Post noted that “sharp portraits of [America’s factions] are the heart of this book. [Packer’s] account of America’s decline into destructive tribalism is always illuminating and often dazzling.”