Even in a year that saw the release of a blockbuster work of nonfiction about blockbusters called 'Blockbusters,' many of the best books were small enough in scope to hide their ambition. As George Saunders continued to play cutman for the American short story, two English journalists journeyed across continents in an attempt to map alcohol's role in culture and an ex-NFL tight end pulled back the curtain on life in the locker room. The world of men was scratched across book after book. These are the ones you need to read.
'The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America'
By George Packer
Farar, Straus and Giroux
In 1993, the top one percent of Americans earned a 12 percent share of total income; in 2008, they were raking in double that, while the middle-class remained at their 1993 share. George Packer's 'The Unwinding' is about what happened in between. Instead of writing about subprimes and market manipulation, Packer tells the stories of American lives – both rich and poor – and how they were affected by the recession. Ultimately, it's the story of the American dream and its limits. There's Jeff Connaughton, who wants to be a presidential aide and becomes a cutthroat Washington lobbyist. There's Tammy Thomas, who works 12-hour days at a factory and, after 30 years, still finds herself in the ghetto. Packer shows signs of righteous anger, but in these alternating vignettes he mostly withholds judgment. We're left with a rich tableau of American lives, many of them desperate and unsung, tiptoeing into a future that is increasingly uncertain. 'The Unwinding' is a somber and soulful book.