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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

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This description may be from another edition of this product. Few people outside certain scholarly circles had heard the name Robert D. Putnam before 1995. But then this self-described "obscure academic" hit a nerve with a journal article called "Bowling Alone."...

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Important Book for Nonprofit and Charity Professionals

Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone is a well-planned and exhaustively researched examination of America's civic and social participation. Few bestselling books have 60 pages of endnotes, over 100 charts and tables, and an index spanning 45 pages. If for no other reason, nonprofit sector professionals should buy this book for its statistical and reference data alone. However, this book is far more than a reference volume; it uses data to tell a compelling story about America's civic and social involvement in the 20th century.The data reported in the book confirm all kinds of influences that have been discussed by public policy experts, social researchers, and watercooler gossips for years -- declining civic club memberships; fewer people willing to take leadership positions in PTA, Boy Scouts, school boards, city councils, and countless other "community-building" pursuits. Mr. Putnam addresses changing lifestyles, from two-paycheck and single-parent families to the increasing time consumed by home-workplace commuting, television, and other "cocooning" activities that reduce time and energy for "other-directed" activity.The book's subtitle, "The Collapse and Revival of American Community," is an apt description of the book that has been misunderstood by many of its critics. Although Professor Putnam (Public Policy professor at Harvard) spends much of the book demonstrating the decline of civic & social involvement and community in America during the last third of our century, he also discusses possible causal factors and even offers suggestions for renewal.The book's final chapter compares America's late 19th century with the late 20th century. He identifies numerous similarities that, he believes, point the way to addressing the current crisis as he sees it. The chapter includes italicized goals for improvement in civic and social involvement.The topic and thesis of the book, originally raised in a 1995 magazine article, will be with us for several more years. The Ford Foundation and a group of community foundations have given Mr. Putnam $1 million to conduct additional research on how communities are addressing community-building issues and how effective those initiatives are. The exhaustive research, enduring interest in the topic, and guaranteed future events related to this book and author are three of many reasons why this book should be on all reference bookshelves. More importantly, Mr. Putnam challenges our assumptions and offers an important lens though which to view the social and civic habits of our co-workers, volunteers, friends, family, and, ultimately, ourselves.

Can You Handle the Truth?

Putnam's commentary on modern American life is frightening at best. I read Putnam's article by the same title in college and it left a lasting imprint because it crystalized my feeling that Americans are no longer involving themselves in civic and community life. His new book expounds on this depressing thesis and explains, in tremendous detail how Americans no longer value civic engagement or regard relationships with neighbors as worthwhile. He cites declines in participation in public clubs such as the Shriners and Elks clubs as well as more informal social gatherings like poker playing and family dinners. Using statistics and time diaries he plots indicators of civic engagement from its peak in the early 1960's and its subsequent decline thereafter. The greatest casualty throughout this transformation is in social capital, a term which predates Putnam and describes the emotional and practical benefits of personal relationship.Putnam shows that civic clubs that have shown growth in membership since the 1960's have mostly been in massive national organizations whose membership is nothing more than people on mailing lists who pay an annual fee. Furthermore, religious organizations, whose members participate in their communities at greater rates than non church goers, are beginning to change their focus from civic participation to only tending to the needs of their church members. The affects of this disengagement have impacted our health, democracy and safety. Putnams points out an axiomatic principle that as people associate with one another in various capacities, whether it be at the kitchen table, the sidewalk, the card club or the PTA, people form relationships that provide a pool of friends who can be relied upon when time are hard, the dog needs to be walked, or the poor elderly woman next door needs her home painted. Each relationship is an asset, the accumulation of which can be called one's "social capital."Putnam does not place the blame for this on one source, but cites the entrance of women into the workforce, high levels of divorce, and urban sprawl among others as possible contributors. His most damning remarks are reserved for television. According to Putnam, no single technology has had such a damaging effect on America's civic and personal relationships. I enjoyed his attack on TV on a personal level because I decided 5 years ago to throw away my television and have never looked back.Certainly, Putnam's concerns are not new. He admits to this and provides the reader with an excellent look at the Progressive Era when American's decided to solve the vexing problems of an industialized urban society by forming civic clubs and actively involving themselves in their community. This is not a particularly fun book to read. In summary, it details how Americans have become spectators on life. The recent success of "reality based" television programs only illustrates how we have trad

You Don't Have to Be an Expert to Appreciate This Book

I'm writing this review for non-sociologists and non-policy experts, for people like me who don't generally curl up with a book of sociology. "Bowling Alone" is an important work because it highlights some very disturbing trends at work in America and suggests some solutions.Author Robert Putnam measures "social capital," which is simply the value of people dealing with people--organization and communication, whether it's formal (church council, the PTA), or informal (the neighborhood tavern, the weekly card game). We have suffered a huge drop in such "social capital" over the past 30-35 years; club attendance has fallen by more than half, church attendance is off, home entertaining is off, even card games are off by half. (Yes, there are people who survey for that!) Why is this important? Because a society that is rich in social capital is healthier, both for the group and for the individual. The states that have the highest club membership and voter turnouts also have the most income equality and the best schools (and those that have the lowest, have the worst). And according to Putnam, "if you decide to join [a group], you can cut your risk of dying over the next year in half." Younger people are demonstrably less social than their grandparents in the World War II generation. They also feel more malaise. Lack of sociability makes people feel worse.While "Bowling Alone" is a work of academic sociology, with charts and graphs, Putnam makes it as reader-friendly as possible with a good honest prose style and a straightforward presentation. His message deserves to be heard. He also suggests some ways for us to get out of our current blight of social disconnectedness, including a call for the USA to re-live the organizational renaissance we once experienced at the turn of the last century, the Progressive Era, which spawned so many organizations like the Sierra Club, PTA and Girl Scouts that are still with us and going strong.If you read only one book of sociology this decade, make it "Bowling Alone." The research is astounding, the presentation is great, and the message is one we need to hear.

The Promise of Social Capitalism

When I first came across the idea that Robert Putnam wrote about in his 1995 article Bowling Alone, I felt like a whole new world and language had been openned up to me. Every thing he writes about in his book is familiar, and yet it is fresh and insightful. The crux of the matter is that our social connectedness is diminishing. Social capital, or the value that exists in the level of trust and reciprocity between individuals, institutions and communities needs to be strengthen. This isn't just about being better people or having a stronger economy. This is about the network of relationships that determine whether a society, both local and national, can meet the challenges of its problems, and thereby sustain a high quality of life. Putnam's book should be read as an exercise in building social capital. By this I mean, you should distribute it to friends, family, coworkers, neighbors and especially elected officials in your community. Then plan to meet and discuss it over lunch or coffee. This book has the potential for being the most significant book on society in a generation. When we scratch our heads and wonder why in the midst of a booming economy, we have such tragic social dysfunction in our society, you can look to Putnam's book as a perspective that offers promise that social capitalism is a signficant aspect of the answer.

An inspiring beginning to an important national conversation

This book will be a fascinating, illuminating, and provocative read for anyone who is interested in the social ties that constitute neighborhood, community and nation. Putnam expands on his earlier article in The American Prospect by looking for confirmation of his hypothesis (Americans have become less connected to social networks than they once were) in virtually every corner of our society. From bowling leagues to the workplace to parenthood to television, this has the potential to be a foundational piece of scholarship in the study of 'social capital.' There is also ample material for critical response -- Putnam makes a number of claims and conclusions that need the clarification of further research. Yet, this is one of the refreshing things about this book -- it invites us into a debate about the state of American communities and provides us with impressive tools and data with which to begin. Disclaimer: This reviewer recently completed a seminar with Putnam, and may therefore be more enthusiastic about the subject than he would expect others to be.
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