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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community 1st Edition

191 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 0743203046
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Editorial Reviews Review

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." Suddenly he found himself invited to Camp David, his picture in People magazine, and his thesis at the center of a raging debate. In a nutshell, he argued that civil society was breaking down as Americans became more disconnected from their families, neighbors, communities, and the republic itself. The organizations that gave life to democracy were fraying. Bowling became his driving metaphor. Years ago, he wrote, thousands of people belonged to bowling leagues. Today, however, they're more likely to bowl alone:
Television, two-career families, suburban sprawl, generational changes in values--these and other changes in American society have meant that fewer and fewer of us find that the League of Women Voters, or the United Way, or the Shriners, or the monthly bridge club, or even a Sunday picnic with friends fits the way we have come to live. Our growing social-capital deficit threatens educational performance, safe neighborhoods, equitable tax collection, democratic responsiveness, everyday honesty, and even our health and happiness.
The conclusions reached in the book Bowling Alone rest on a mountain of data gathered by Putnam and a team of researchers since his original essay appeared. Its breadth of information is astounding--yes, he really has statistics showing people are less likely to take Sunday picnics nowadays. Dozens of charts and graphs track everything from trends in PTA participation to the number of times Americans say they give "the finger" to other drivers each year. If nothing else, Bowling Alone is a fascinating collection of factoids. Yet it does seem to provide an explanation for why "we tell pollsters that we wish we lived in a more civil, more trustworthy, more collectively caring community." What's more, writes Putnam, "Americans are right that the bonds of our communities have withered, and we are right to fear that this transformation has very real costs." Putnam takes a stab at suggesting how things might change, but the book's real strength is in its diagnosis rather than its proposed solutions. Bowling Alone won't make Putnam any less controversial, but it may come to be known as a path-breaking work of scholarship, one whose influence has a long reach into the 21st century. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (July 31, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743203046
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,404,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and founder of the Saguaro Seminar, a program dedicated to fostering civic engagement in America. He is the author or coauthor of ten previous books and is former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

373 of 383 people found the following review helpful By Joshua D. Hamilton on July 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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126 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Allen Smalling TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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166 of 180 people found the following review helpful By Ed Brenegar on May 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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75 of 80 people found the following review helpful By David Rosenblatt on May 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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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