• Last Best Hope

  • America in Crisis and Renewal
  • By: George Packer
  • Narrated by: George Packer
  • Length: 6 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (310 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

2021 Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
2021
New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year
2021 NPR Best Book of the Year

Acclaimed National Book Award-winning author George Packer diagnoses America’s descent into a failed state and envisions a path toward overcoming our injustices, paralyses, and divides.

This program is read by the author.

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.

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.

A Macmillan Audio production from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

©2021 George Packer (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

What listeners say about Last Best Hope

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Excellent analysis of complex problems in US.

Thorough & carefully done. Last chapter & epilogue reward readers' efforts. Compelling thoughtprovoking inspiring read.

8 people found this helpful

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This is us decoded—who's up to that task?

America, this is you; this is us decoded. No matter who you are, or what your socioeconomic perspective, George Packer provides in this book the most insightful explanation I have seen of why some people behave in inexplicable ways and believe in demonstrably false premises. Avoiding the posture of a progressive rant against the usual suspects, Packer effectively presents an objective break down of how American democracy is in fact in peril—from forces that were active even prior to the founding of the United States.

Packer documents well the fissures throughout American history, categorizing four recognizable groups in our contemporary time:
1. Free America, as in neoliberal and libertarian, I've got mine and your problems are your own fault, and concern for individual freedom overrides any recognition that the actual market is far from free.
2. Smart America, I've got the creds at least in my narrow specialty, a world where skewed meritocracy is simultaneously foundational and precarious, and why can't everyone else be smart like me (emphasis on like me).
3. Real America, basically rural whites and others who think like them, often whose sense of reality is conjured by right wing media, a world of cohabiting inferiority and superiority complexes, where loyalty overrides logic.
4. Justice America, the driver of identity based cancel culture that has jumped the fence of academia and infected business and society in general, although properly promoting marginalized groups sometimes ignored by preceding Liberals they are selective themselves on which causes to champion, refusing the wisdom of progressive giants in history in emphasizing separate identity over common economic justice.

Packer's antidote for these fissures is the art of self-government, explained as community interaction at the local level—which would provide the foundation for healing at the state and federal levels. This would be accomplished by people of the different categories interacting with each other on matters other than what separates them—with the intended result that they begin to see each other as fellow humans. This cannot be just "both sidesism," as one can still affirm another's human agency without legitimizing their false premises.

I found this book short on solutions to the problems Packer so skillfully describes. All the human interaction that is possible is still limited as long as well funded promulgators of fallacy based propaganda continue to influence large sections of society. Those in each category will need to see those in the other categories as fellow humans, looking past their (obvious to themselves) ignorance and intolerance. Someone or something will need to facilitate such inter-category interaction—who's up to that task?

7 people found this helpful

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Insightful and thought-provoking

Is it possible for any human being to accurately sum up a society as conflicted and contradictory as ours? I'm doubtful, but George Packer's book is insightful and thought-provoking. My favorite chapter was the one called Equalizers, in which the author tells the stories of three American reformers (Horace Greeley, Frances Perkins, and Bayard Rustin), reflecting on their times and making trenchant comparisons to ours.

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Concise.

concise. but covers enough history to gather the many threads as to the who, what and whys.

authors narration is very good. a pleasing timbre.

2 people found this helpful

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Please read this book!!!!!!!!!!!

Occasionally, a book comes along that lays bare our greatest vulnerabilities, our subdued prejudice, and our propensity for denial and self confirmation. This is that book. It does not spare anyone of the blame for our current situation and speaks truth to bull$#!+ in a straightforward and efficient manner that I have not seen in a long time. I feel convicted and inpsired and I am grateful for the authors courage in saying the things that need to be said. This book is a truth bomb and it deserves to be read and fully considered. May God bless George Packer for writing this outstanidng work.

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Would like more psychological analysis

I must say that this book was intriguing and excellently written - proven by the fact that I wanted it to continue and go more in depth; if anything it is too short in my opinion. The profiles of Greeley and Perkins seemed a little abrupt and out of place (why exactly were they included?), but I did learn about Rustin who was a completely unknown historical figure to me. I would like to see more of a mix of the psychological and sociological in a book like this a la George Lakoff. In my experiences with the many others in my life, and formerly in my life, who have a different (Conservative) political framework the basis is in their authoritarian and hierarchical worldview, and is deeply rooted in religious beliefs stemming from this worldview (and perhaps one could argue the religious beliefs remain foundational to these individuals because of their inherently authoritarian hierarchical beliefs). The household ethos in which a child is raised seems to be at play here in a very significant way and cannot be separated from the psychological and therefore political development of each individual. This is why we will always have two diametrically opposed political parties!
As an imposter member of “Smart” America I found the section on the Four Americas to be eerily spot-on and fascinating, bringing forward ideas I had not been exposed to previously. However, the imposter status so many of us in “Smart” America hold could perhaps be explored further. We do not all fit into simple categories- many of us struggle to maintain our foothold in our selected group, something George Orwell wrote of (to paraphrase, having all the education and bourgeois tastes of a gentleman (or woman) without the independent wealth required to maintain the lifestyle). I found myself rooting for some suggestions that could be considered almost Communistic in nature, while wanting this author to go a bit further in his recommendations for digging ourselves out of the mess we are in.
Ultimately a thought provoking book and certainly appreciated being exposed to some new ideas!

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Wow! Terrific book!

This book does a deep dive into what is going on in America. You need this information as background to allow you to understand what has happened and what will happen. I highly recommend it.

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A must read for all four americas

I so much appreciate it this look at the whole of America. I have become absolutely exhausted with the way we are talking about issues. I find myself screaming at NPR. Flirting with Fox News only to realize that no I cannot watch Fox at all. So I go back to my frustrated sessions within NPR.

“Problem is most stories won’t submit to our desire for certainty, and when it does it’s usually because we’ve crushed them flat.


The problem with moral clarity is that so much news and life gets lost in its glare.”

George Packer

But the book is not really about the media, it’s about the four camps Americans find themselves in. And I have to admit at least with my camp he had me pegged. It was almost eerie. And more to the point was when he proposed the solutions for the other four groups, I was like yeah, that’s exactly what we need to do. But the solution to rub out the problems with my vision for my “America, “ made me bristle. So yes he had me pegged.

Well I am concerned that only 1/2 of the America that he describes or read this book, because it is very anti-Trump, I hope many do.

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Great post script to the Unwinding

If you’ve read the Unwinding, and you should if not, this is basically an update to that excellent piece of work that explains the history of the USA in politico-economic terms. I suggest reading the the Unwinding first.

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Time to rethink our narratives

lots here...much to ponder about my role in all of this and what actions to take. I particularly like the briefly mentioned idea of national service as a vehicle to show us how much we have in common. I propose a mandatory National Service Corps that goes well beyond any models we have at present. 2 years minimum, combine military service, law enforcement, social/communitly service and teaching into new, permanent role for every American.