Last Best Hope
Acclaimed National Book Award-winning author George Packer diagnoses America’s descent into a failed state, and envisions a path toward overcoming injustices, paralyses, and divides
How, in a few decades, did the United States transform from a broadly prosperous middle-class country, with relatively healthy institutions and competent leaders, to a nation defined by discredited elites, hollowed-out institutions, and blatant inequalities-feared and pitied by our friends, mocked and sabotaged by our adversaries, first in the world in Covid cases and deaths, and led in recent years by an incompetent authoritarian bigot? Last Best Hope is a bracing account of our current crisis and of how a new era of civic revitalization may bring it to an end.
Combining reportage with historical narrative, autobiography, and political analysis, Packer depicts and assesses the four inadequate narratives that dominate American public life: Libertarian America, which imagines a nation of individuals responsible for their own fate, and serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy; Cosmopolitan America, the ideology of Silicon Valley and the professional elite,which celebrates globalization and leaves many American communities behind; Diverse America, which defines citizens as members of large identity groups that have inflicted or suffered oppression; and White America, a shallow nationalism that fears the contamination of non-whites and treachery of coastal elites, and poses the greatest threat to democracy in our lifetime.
At a time when many fear that the American experiment in self-government may collapse, or, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “die by suicide”, Packer shows that none of these narratives can sustain American democracy. To point a better way forward, he looks back at previous eras of crisis to discover the resources for invigorating self-government. Combining trenchant social analysis with a vibrant and stinging essayistic voice and a deep knowledge of America’s past and present, Last Best Hope is an essential contribution to the literature of national self-examination the times demand.
In the great tradition of Richard Hofstadter, but with a reporter's eye, George Packer has given us a thoughtful and ultimately hopeful book about crisis and opportunity. -- Jon Meacham, author of His Truth Is Marching On and The Soul of America George Packer has written a small but big book. The end of the pandemic should be pure joy, but the fact that a public health crisis deepened our divisions has weighed down our hearts. Is there anything that could glue us together as one people? Packer answers yes. And the case he makes in doing so provides the vaccine I have most wanted - hope. -- Atul Gawande, surgeon and author of Being Mortal and The Checklist Manifesto In Last Best Hope, George Packer retells the story of 2020, offering an original account of the fracturing of [America's] mind and suggesting how we might restore unity. Ranging from Tocqueville to Trump, this extended essay will provoke you to think harder about America's past as well as America's future. -- Anne Applebaum, author of Twilight of Democracy and Gulag In the summer of 2020, America seemed to divide into two different nations. Anyone who observed the crack-up will cherish this flinty analysis, which offers new insights into how Americans from Frances Perkins to Bayard Rustin to those who stormed the U.S. Capitol have understood and defined freedom. The result is a clear-eyed explanation of how a progressive nation can be a unified one. -- John H. McWhorter, professor of linguistics at Columbia University, contributing editor at The Atlantic, and host of Slate's Lexicon Valley [An] incisive, deftly argued book. -- Peter Conrad * Observer *
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