A selection of stories from The New Yorker’s archive
George Packer’s World
In late 2008, George Packer drove around Florida, one of the places where the financial crisis began. He wanted to understand how the state had become the foreclosure capital of America, and what the “diagram of moral responsibility” looked like. It was shaped, he wrote in “The Ponzi State,” like an inverted pyramid, “with the lion’s share belonging to the banks, mortgage lenders, regulators, and politicians at the top.” The race to build more and more subdivisions-even when the people buying them clearly couldn’t afford them-was essentially a confidence game, with “everyone involved both being taken and taking someone else.” A George Packer piece, whether it is about the housing crisis or Silicon Valley, always provides readers with the rhetorical equivalent of a panoramic shot.These big-picture moments, however, are paired with intimate portraits of individual lives. In “The Ponzi State,” Packer gets homeowners who have kept their curtains drawn, fearing the arrival of a foreclosure notice, to confide the dreams that accidentally led them to ruin. He gets us to feel the regret of a resident who, having lost everything, adds her mother’s silverware to a garage sale. In Packer’s piece on the paralyzing dysfunction of the Senate, “The Empty Chamber,” Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat, lets down her guard, describing “days when you want to throw up your hands and say, ‘What in the world are we doing?’ ” In “War After the War,” a dispatch from Baghdad, Packer speaks to top U.N. officials and American Ambassadors, but the heart of his piece is a young Iraqi computer programmer. Her veil, he writes, “was just a prop: she wore it to keep from being killed by fundamentalists.” In just a few sentences, he captures her thwarted yearning: “Shouket had never spoken to a foreigner before the morning we met. She wanted to travel, but she was too frightened to go into town and set up an e-mail account at an Internet café.” Such everyday dreams, Packer concludes, were being extinguished by an occupation that had become a “continuous crisis.” George Packer is the rare reporter who is also an essayist. In the course of every elegant piece, he gently tacks between the analytical and the humane.
-Daniel Zalewski, Features Director
To read Packer’s articles go to this website: