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Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work--but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified in this brilliant volume, which The Economist hailed as "a prodigious achievement."
Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans' changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures--whether they be PTA, church, or political parties--have disintegrated. Until the publication of this groundbreaking work, no one had so deftly diagnosed the harm that these broken bonds have wreaked on our physical and civic health, nor had anyone exalted their fundamental power in creating a society that is happy, healthy, and safe.
Like defining works from the past, such as The Lonely Crowd and The Affluent Society, and like the works of C. Wright Mills and Betty Friedan, Putnam's Bowling Alone has identified a central crisis at the heart of our society and suggests what we can do.
Harvard professor Putnam draws on a remarkable half a million interviews conducted over 25 years to show that Americans just aren't that connected anymore, joining fewer organizations, signing fewer petitions, and visiting less with neighbors. He also recommends how we can rebuild our ties. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
"If you don't go to somebody's funeral, they won't come to yours," Yogi Berra once said, neatly articulating the value of social networks. In this alarming and important study, Putnam, a professor of sociology at Harvard, charts the grievous deterioration over the past two generations of the organized ways in which people relate to one another and partake in civil life in the U.S. For example, in 1960, 62.8% of Americans of voting age participated in the presidential election, whereas by 1996, the percentage had slipped to 48.9%. While most Americans still claim a serious "religious commitment," church attendance is down roughly 25%-50% from the 1950s, and the number of Americans who attended public meetings of any kind dropped 40% between 1973 and 1994. Even the once stable norm of community life has shifted: one in five Americans moves once a year, while two in five expect to move in five years. Putnam claims that this has created a U.S. population that is increasingly isolated and less empathetic toward its fellow citizens, that is often angrier and less willing to unite in communities or as a nation. Marshaling a plentiful array of facts, figures, charts and survey results, Putnam delivers his message with verve and clarity. He concludes his analysis with a concise set of potential solutions, such as educational programs, work-based initiatives and funded community-service programs, offering a ray of hope in what he perceives to be a dire situation. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. 3-city tour; 20-city radio satellite tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
According to Putnam, people participated to a considerable degree in various public and private groups well into the 1960s, but since then such participation, referred to as "social capital" because of its potential benefits, has declined. The author devotes eight of the book's 24 chapters to an attempt to provide evidence for reduced participation in political organizations, churches, and various social clubs and interest groups. Among the alleged causes for this putative decrease: the demands of work leaving less time for other activities; the frequent movement of many people from one community to another working against the formation of close ties; more time spent watching TV and "surfing the Web," leaving less time for interacting with others. Putman argues that this erosion is worrisome because social capital serves important needs such as resolving conflicts in the community and increasing the physical and mental health of individuals. In the final chapter, Putnam urges the reader to work at reversing the trend he has seen, but his exhortations contain few specific proposals. The book concludes with three appendixes and about 50 pages of notes. The Web site for the book appears on the dust jacket. General readers and above. D. Harper; University of Rochester
Putnam laments the decline in the kind of informal social institutions--bridge clubs, bowling leagues, charity leagues, etc.--that were once the glue for many American communities. In a detailed, well-documented book, he examines how Americans have expended their "social capital," the good will and social intercourse that constitute basic neighborliness, to such an extent that they feel civic malaise despite economic prosperity. As social groups decline, so do civic, religious, and work groups. But Putnam sees trends of both collapse and renewal in civic engagement and seeks to avoid "simple nostalgia." Indeed, he also examines the darker side of social capital, including the compulsion to promote homogeneity. He cites generational differences, demographic changes, technology, and increased mobility as reasons for the decline in social organizations, but he notes trends in technology that spur the reformulating of social groups as well as growth in such mass-membership organizations as the American Association of Retired Persons. Finally, he suggests how the nation can reengage citizens and improve its investment in social capital. --Vanessa Bush
The lighthearted title made me expect a light read. Could not have been more wrong. This is 400+ Pages of solid data, covering the ongoing deterioration of American social capital. What is fascinating is the constant comparison of various social characteristics (violence, inequality etc) against the social capital of the individual US states. No surprise that Alabama and Mississippi are constantly bottom of the class, but some of the top places are interesting. Scandinavian immigration is a clear winner.
The old English idiom "elephant in the room," meaning an obvious truth that is being ignored or unaddressed, depicts the state of community involvement in America ( and by extension Canada ) in the latter half of the 20th century. Through his insightful book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam explores the decline of civic engagement and social connectedness in modern American society. Putnam uses his work to shed light on reasons for such decline in community involvement and social capital, as well as posits suggestions and strategies for reversing this trend.