Packer, George 1960(?)-
Packer, George 1960(?)-
(George C. Packer)
PERSONAL: Born c. 1960, in CA; son of Herbert (a lawyer and college administrator) and Nancy (a college administrator and writer; maiden name, Huddleston) Packer. Education: Yale University, undergraduate degree. Politics: Socialist.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Anderson & Grisberg Literary Management, 266 West 23rd St., New York, NY 10011.
CAREER: Author and professor. Peace Corps member, Lavie, Togo, 1982–83; Bennington College, Bennington, VT, faculty member; member of faculty, Columbia University, New York, NY and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1989–93. Dissent (magazine), member of editorial board.
MEMBER: PEN America Center.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grand Prize Winner, Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, 2001, for Blood of the Liberals; Guggenheim fellowship, 2001–02.
The Village of Waiting (memoir), Vintage (New York, NY), 1988.
The Half Man (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1991.
Central Square (novel), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1998.
Blood of the Liberals (memoir), Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor and author of introduction) The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World, Perennial (New York, NY), 2003.
The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including The 1997 Pushcart Prize and The Art of the Essay. Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, Dissent, Double Take, New Yorker, and New York Times.
SIDELIGHTS: Author, professor, and political activist George Packer examines, through his own family ties, three generations of American liberalism in Blood of the Liberals. Packer's maternal grandfather, George Huddleston, was a congressman from Alabama from 1915 to 1937 and a Jeffersonian liberal who eventually clashed with Democratic leadership over going to war during World War I and later New Deal policies. His father, Herbert L. Packer, was vice provost at Stanford University and at the epicenter of the student upheavals of the late 1960s. Herbert Packer, whom his son, at age nine, saw as "a broken man," committed suicide three years later. Packer himself is a former Peace Corps member and a socialist.
According to Lawrence Sutin in the Ruminator Review, Packer, in Blood of the Liberals, "attempts a hybrid weaving of the personal and the political, of memoir and of history. The result is both a gain and a loss—a gain in that the stories of his grandfather and father are worth focusing on, and a loss in that such a focus constricts rather than expands Packer's historical vision."
Mark Schmitt, calling Blood of the Liberals "a family memoir whose protagonists are at best footnotes to the century," wrote in the American Prospect: "As memoir alone, Blood of the Liberals is compelling and beautiful, though somewhat humorless (except in its account of campus politics at Yale in the early 1980s)." Schmitt added: "If there is a weakness to the narrative, it is Packer's populist grandfather and his professorial father aren't really part of the same story. So it is up to the author to connect two aspects of twentieth-century liberalism that have rarely recognized, much less understood, one another: the southern populists' tragically frustrated dream of an alliance of poor whites and blacks against economic power, and the self-assured, end-of-ideology brand of social-science liberalism that flourished on the verdant quadrangles of the post-GI Bill university."m
Keith Gessen, dubbing Packer's work "a genealogy of defeat" in the American Scholar, found Herbert Packer to be the pivotal figure. "Nothing went quite so terribly wrong as in the 1960s, and the central story in Blood of the Liberals concerns Packer's father, a Stanford law professor and administrator who, after getting Red-baited in the fifties, found himself, in 1967, on the crumbling barricade between a rigid university and a rabid student movement," Gessen wrote. "A strict proceduralist, he was not the man for the job, and Packer makes this abundantly clear. At the same time, the pages seethe with animus toward the students."
Kevin Grandfield added in Book: "Packer shows how liberals in general and his ancestors in particular arrived at their proposed solutions for the problems of race, class and underprivilege that still plague our society." Grandfield also noted: "Sometimes his focus is too narrow and his position too personal. But he rightly points out that the conservative backlash to the 1960s' upheaval has grown too extended and entrenched."
According to Philadelphia City Paper book critic Rachel Carpenter, Blood of the Liberals "is about how we got from there to here; how liberal has changed its meanings; how the left splintered along the fault line of identity politics and rational liberalism got lost along the way."
Packer began his writing career with The Village of Waiting, a nonfiction work recounting his Peace Corps days in West Africa during the early 1980s. Packer taught English to villagers in Lavie, Togo. Janet Stanley, reviewing the book in the Library Journal, noted how Packer "evokes both sympathy and amusement" in describing Togo. Phoebe-Lou Adams, writing for the Atlantic, called it "informative but not optimistic."
His novel The Half Man tells of a young American journalist far from home. Daniel Levin is an "untried foreign correspondent in an obscure unstable place." Living on the fictional Direv Saraun island in Southeast Asia, and at the site of a burgeoning revolt, Levin examines his personal life when his fiancée joins him. As an American journalist covering a startlingly different culture, he second-guesses his own career. Joseph A. Cincotti wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Packer creates a credible place and people in Direv Saraun, but that Levin "gets in the way of the story."
According to New York Times Book Review contributor Rand Richards Cooper, Packer's Central Square features characters who live in a "grittier" part of Cambridge, Massachusetts wedged almost equidistant from the elite institutions Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and whose residents and shop owners have been fighting gentrification. The novel features Joe, a black man recently returned from an African trip; Paula, a disillusioned social worker with a sleazy boss; and Eric, a novelist with a stalled writing career and a preoccupied, pregnant wife. Eric and Paula have an affair while Joe develops a reputation as a shaman and joins a local group called the Community that Paula's boss leads. The characters' lives intersect again as Eric visits the Community to explore his failures. In the Library Journal, Starr E. Smith wrote that Central Square contains "characters both representative of the social structure and believable as individuals." In the New York Times Book Review, Rand Richards Cooper observed how "Packer excels at portraying the mired and anxious," and added, "Joe seems almost entirely metaphorical, deployed to play ironically against the other two main characters."
Packer, who reported on the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003 in a series of articles for the New Yorker, tells the story of the war from the political side to the battlefront in his book The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq. The author analyzes the intellectual underpinnings of the war and how the case was made for war in the political and social arenas. He then gives a firsthand account of the battle on the ground and the aftermath, which he highly criticizes for lack of planning on the U.S. government's part. A contributor to the Economist wrote that the author's "brutal analyses and trenchant on-the-spot reportage for the New Yorker magazine over the past two years provide the core of this devastating critique." David Gates, writing in Newsweek, noted that "Packer approached his story without preconceptions—which makes his findings all the more damning." In a review for Christian Century, Robert Westbrook called the book "an exceptional mix of memoir, history, reportage, political argument and cri de coeur."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Packer, George, The Village of Waiting, Vintage (New York, NY), 1988.
Packer, George, Blood of the Liberals, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
American Prospect, December 4, 2000, Mark Schmitt, review of Blood of the Liberals, p. 40.
American Scholar, autumn, 2000, Keith Gessen, review of Blood of the Liberals, p.143.
Atlantic, September, 1988, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Village of Waiting, p. 98.
Book, September, 2000, Kevin Grandfield, review of Blood of the Liberals, p. 80.
Booklist, August, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of Blood of the Liberals, p. 2099.
Christian Century, December 13, 2005, Robert West-brook, review of The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq, p. 38.
Economist, October 15, 2005, review of The Assassin's Gate, p. 89.
Library Journal, October 1, 1988, Janet Stanley, review of The Village of Waiting, p. 84; October 15, 1991, p. 122; October 1, 1998, Starr E. Smith, review of Central Square, p. 135; August, 2000, Charles K. Piehl, review of Blood of the Liberals, p. 130.
Newsweek, October 17, 2005, David Gates, review of The Assassin's Gate, p. 70.
New York Times Book Review, December 29, 1991, Joseph A. Cincotti, review of The Half Man, p. 16; November 22, 1998, Rand Richards Cooper, review of Central Square, p. 44; September 2, 2001, Scott Veale, review of Blood of the Liberals, pp. 20-21.
New York Times Magazine, September 30, 2001, George Packer, "Recapturing the Flag," p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, June 12, 2000, review of Blood of the Liberals, p. 59.
Ruminator Review, fall, 2001, Lawrence Sutin, review of Blood of the Liberals, pp. 32-33.