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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

A Landmark Analyis of 20th Century American Society

It takes until the last (24th) chapter to learn about it, but there exists a group of thirty-three 'accomplished thinkers' organized by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to think about how to put American society back together again. I became an apartment-dwelle...
It takes until the last (24th) chapter to learn about it, but there exists a group of thirty-three 'accomplished thinkers' organized by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to think about how to put American society back together again. I became an apartment-dweller, a transient, in 1975 while I was in college and remained one until I bought my first house in 1997. Since then, I have been surprised to find how disengaged I am from my neighbors and how difficult it is to form the types of neighborhood relationships that sustained me and enhanced my family when I was a kid. During my college and grad school days, even as a transient, I thought I was witnessing a withdrawal by my fellow Americans from the ordinary behaviors of good citizenship and mutual respect. I have been especially aware, for instance, that shoppers will now go not even five feet to place a shopping cart in a parking lot rack. They leave them instead to occupy parking spaces and be windblown to dent other people's cars. In Robert Putnam's June 2000 book, Bowling Alone - The Collapse and Revival of American Community, the author presents an exhaustive study of Americans' withdrawal from community and civic life since the mid-20th century. It is certainly a book for social scientists, with over a thousand references (I couldn't count them), but I am not a social scientist and the book fully engaged me, too. Bowling Alone (the title comes from the fact that bowling is at an all-time high while league bowling is declining) is presented in four parts - and I paraphrase - what is happening?, why is it happening?, what does it matter?, and what do we do about it? The first, 'Trends in Civic Engagement and Social Capital,' sounds bookish but contains alarming revelations about just how superficial we are in our public participation. For instance, we belong to do-gooder organizations, but we do not meet with our fellow do-gooders in local groups. Instead, we put a check in the mail - usually to whichever organization has maintained the steadiest bombardment of junk mail solicitations. As Putnam says in these chapters, 'Citizenship by proxy is an oxymoron.' Trends in religious participation are also interesting: attendance at 'mainstream' churches is down while churches at the ends of the spectrum have experienced gains - and a primary characteristic of the fringe churches is a disengagement from society rather than becoming a part of the community fabric for civic improvement. The 'why' section of the book comprises good, solid, well-referenced research. I have written in the op-ed section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Dec 1999) that I suspected anonymity (I blamed air-conditioning) and the geographic mobility requirements of modern work. Putnam says I am right about anonymity (but that it is television, not air-conditioning that is responsible) and wrong about mobility (it would seem to make sense, but our troubles started long after we became as mobile as we are today). What does it matter? Our diminished sense of community degrades education, safe neighborhoods, economic prosperity, personal health and happiness, and the health of our democracy. For instance, would you guess that joining a club statistically will improve your health as much as quitting smoking? Finally, what are we to do? In these final two chapters, I learned some American history about the Gilded Age (leading up to 1900) and the Progressive Era (1900-1930's) and found that the same concerns about societal declines arose and society eventually found answers (although, it seems that it took the unifying influences of world wars to knit us together to work for the common good.) Dr. Putnam, a Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, shares with us some of the suggestions of the Saguaro Seminar thinkers mentioned at the top of this review. I predict that one hundred years hence, social analysts will be trying to figure out what went wrong in America in the 21st

posted by Anonymous on October 7, 2000

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Vastly overrated work

This book is vastly overrated. It purportedly is concerned with the decline of civic involvement, yet it devotes virtually no space (to the existence of, never mind the impact of ) such crucial political changes as the shift in political parties from organizations to m...
This book is vastly overrated. It purportedly is concerned with the decline of civic involvement, yet it devotes virtually no space (to the existence of, never mind the impact of ) such crucial political changes as the shift in political parties from organizations to mobilize the public to campaign and finance oriented machines; the nation's development as an international hegemonic power; globalization; policies which led to suburbanization and the abandonment of cities and manufacturing as a key economic sector; the growth of class differences within the countries; the defunding of public institutions, including education; and the rise of an entertainment-oriented news media. It has become so beloved by so many -- from the right and the left -- that it's easy to overlook that this is because its extensive data blinds readers to the major absences in its analysis and because it offers solutions calculated to offend no one.

posted by Anonymous on May 16, 2002

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2004

    Bowling Alone Lacks Striking Finale

    Having seen Robert Putnam on TODAY and other TV shows at the time this book came out, I purchased it, and found it to be a fascinating, and surprisingly readable book. The book is exhaustively well-researched, and interesting, but when Putnam finally arrives at Chapter 24, where he supposedly presents an ' Agenda ' for changing American society, his delivery is weak. Instead of providing concrete, hands-on suggestions for change, he makes broad-brush recommendations, followed by VERY modest support for his views. Example: ' Let us act to ensure that by 2010 Americans will spend less time traveling and more time connecting with our neighbors than we do today'....This proclamation is followed by only TWO paragraphs of commentary, very little of which engages the reader in a 'here's what you can do to help!' approach. Hey, Bob, I read 23 chapters of your book to get to this, and you give me proclamations? Give me the address and contact person of an organization needing help in New Jersey!! The book is fascinating, and accurate, but throws a 7-10 split in the 10th frame!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2001

    For Culture Hogs

    I'd say it's no blockbuster, but certainly not bad. I enjoyed it for it's style,(personable in plain english), the nostalgic culture, and somewhat for the enlightening content. It seems to be an unbiased presentation, and I've seen the author quoted by oppossing schools of thought, indicating perhaps, 'no axe-grinder'.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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