Alex Witt   |  June 15, 2013

George Packer gives insights into his writing process

In this week's "Office Politics," New Yorker staff writer George Packer sits down with MSNBC’s Alex Witt. His new book, "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America" scrutinizes the widening economic divide in this country. George provides insights into his writing process and the one book on his bookshelf he returns to again and again for inspiration.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> george packer , "the unwinding," take a look at the widening economic divide in this country and how we got there. george also shares the one book on his bookshelf that he returns to again and again for inspiration. first, though, alex started by asking george about his approach to writing "the unwinding."

>> i wanted to convey this feeling of being an american today and over this past generation in that deep intimate way a novel gives you. getting out of the way. there's no first person. there's no commentary. it's all told through the point of view of my characters. and you move back and forth between their stories over the course of these three decades as the book moves along. some of them i met by chance. dean price, serial entrepreneur aoe vsrapv evangelist. and from ohio, tammy thomas, a factory worker who made herself a community organizer . there are several other characters. they're all americans who have been acted on by these forces of the collapse of the institutions i'm writing about who have had to invent a new way forward for themselves.

>> but there's a level of optimism held by some. how do you explain that?

>> it's partly an american refusal to quit. it's their nature. dean price, for example, the north carolina guy has this really almost religious faith that if he pursues his vision of reviving the sort of fallen countryside of his home area by alternative energy , that he will make it. that's an american belief in itself. but what's missing are those structures that used to support people like dean price. he's doing it on his own now. and it's true there are -- their stories give me hope when i'm with them. but when i'm stepping back and looking at washington and wall street and the centers of power and the leaders of those institutions, i don't feel quite so optimistic. there are 10 portraits of social leaders from different walks of life that are scattered through the narratives of the main characters . everyone from newt gingrich , jay-z, sam walton , robert rubin , oprah winfrey .

>> it's the envy for so many. is it cool?

>> it's like a permeable membrane than an inner sanctum. it's hard to keep up with the kids at home, with the phone ringing, and my chronic e-mail checking. i'm an addict.

>> when do you get your writing done?

>> normally, it's a day job , 9:00 to 5:30, usually when the kids are at school. before kids, it was much later at night.

>> is there is a a favorite or one you go back to?

>> homage to catalonia, i found in a bookstore in barcelona, appropriately, in 1984 , appropriately on my way back from africa. and i didn't really know orwell at that point. i had to read one in high school . they're not the best place to get to know orwell . i think they're great books. but this is the real orwell . it was a great education and a great model. so i feel very, you know, close to it personally. because it helped me see how to write.