LAST BEST HOPE: America in Crisis and Renewal by George Packer (Togo)


In the year 2020, Americans suffered one rude blow after another to their health, livelihoods, and collective self-esteem. A ruthless pandemic, an inept and malign government response, polarizing protests, and an election marred by conspiracy theories left many citizens in despair about their country and its democratic experiment. With pitiless precision, the year exposed the nation’s underlying conditions — discredited elites, weakened institutions, blatant inequalities — and how difficult they are to remedy.

George Packer

In Last Best Hope, George Packer traces the shocks back to their sources. He explores the four narratives that now dominate American life: Free America, which imagines a nation of separate individuals and serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy; Smart America, the world 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.

In lively and biting prose, Packer shows that none of these narratives can sustain a democracy. To point a more hopeful way forward, he looks for a common American identity and finds it in the passion for equality — the “hidden code” — that Americans of diverse persuasions have held for centuries. Today, we are challenged again to fight for equality and renew what Alexis de Tocqueville called “the art” of self-government. In its strong voice and trenchant analysis, Last Best Hope is an essential contribution to the literature of national renewal.

George Packer is an award-winning author and staff writer at The Atlantic. His Peace Corps book is entitled, The Village of Waiting (1988). Other books include The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (winner of the National Book Award), The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, (2006) and Our Man: Richard Holbrooke  and the End of the American Century (2019) (winner of the Hitchens Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography). He is also the author of two novels and a play, and the editor of a two-volume edition of the essays of George Orwell.

Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal
by George Packer (Togo 1982-83)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
240 pages
June 2021
$13.99(Kindle);$22.99(Hardcover);$6.95 (Audiobook), $13.99 (Audio CD)




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  • George,

    While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read your new book, it is something I look forward to doing in the near future. In terms of your passion for ‘equality’, I much prefer to view my country in terms of what it has accomplished for its citizens–as well as for a much wider community in our world. A few examples, mostly in the health sector–which go unnoticed today:

    1. the U. S. was a prime mover in the defeat of many ‘isms’ of the past century. Yet, instead of being a conquering nation in Germany, Italy, Finland, and Japan, it propelled each of them into a democratic community of nations;

    2. it partnered with Russia to eradicate smallpox from our global population, the only disease yet to be eradicated;

    3. it developed a polio vaccine and this disease is now near eradication on a global basis;

    4. it developed ‘ivermectin’, as an effective treatment for river blindness, followed by its eradication in 4 African and two South American countries. It was made available in whatever quantities it was needed, wherever it was needed, free of charge into perpetuity;

    5. It controlled schistosomiasis in Egypt for the first time over its centuries of recorded history;

    6. through the Carter Center, guinea worm is now near eradication in Africa;

    7. when Singapore became independent in 1963, it was swamp of infectious diseases, worse than most countries in Africa. Beginning with technical assistance from USAID, it became one of the healthiest countries in the world–as well as wealthiest;

    8. Same for South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan–the ‘Tigers’ of Asia, with South Korea now becoming a donor nation and the 12th largest economy in the world.

    9. It developed a global program to combat HIV/AIDS via PEPFAR, a program that has brought the most up to date medications to those affected by this disease–free of charge.

    10. its technical assistance to the Czech Republic resulted in its ability to inform the donor community that foreign assistance was no longer needed, thank you.

    There is always more to be done. Yet, every now and again, let’s be proud of what we as a nation and member of a global community–have done.

    Sadly, one can walk the hallways of USAID/W today and find not a single soul who would remember its role in Singapore, South Korea, or that our country once formed a partnership with Russia to eradicate smallpox.

    Jeremiah Norris
    Colombia 1963-65


  • Jerry,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Too often we tend to forget some of our accomplishments and sigh as we look at all that still needs to be accomplished.

  • Hi Jerimiah,

    Very nice job with the history of well done post war American Aid. I look forward to sharing your email with several of my friends who are USAID employees.

    John Pettit
    Ethiopa 66-68

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