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Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone Paperback – January 29, 2013
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An Essay by
As featured on Rollingstone.com
There have been a lot of big cultural changes since the 1960s, and no one has covered them like Rolling Stone. But some changes escape the eyes of even the most perceptive observers. We recognize them only in retrospect, and once we do we suddenly realize that artists--especially musicians--were not merely seeing the revolution, but also expressing them from the very start. Often, we were even singing along!
My new book, Going Solo, tells the story of the biggest modern social change that we’ve yet to identify: the extraordinary rise of living alone.
Until the middle of the 20th century, no society in human history had sustained large numbers of singletons. In 1950, for instance, only 4 million Americans lived alone, and they accounted for less than 10 percent of all households. Today, more than 32 million Americans are going solo. They represent 28 percent of all households at the national level; more than 40 percent in cities including San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Denver, and Minneapolis; and nearly 50 percent in Washington D.C. and Manhattan, the twin capitals of the solo nation.
The numbers are even higher in Europe and Japan. And they’re growing fastest in places with rapidly developing economies, from China and India to Brazil.
I put together a playlist of some of the greatest songs for going solo, and an extended set of many others. Got your own favorites? Share them! After all, no one can get it all right on their own.
Billy Idol, “Dancing with Myself”
Sometimes you really don’t need a partner, and this is among the brightest songs about the pleasure of being alone. Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” is a remix of a single that was originally performed by the group Generation X. What better way to get in the mood for going solo?
Rolling Stones, “Get Off of My Cloud”
”Got Off of My Cloud” was the "follow up" to the Rolling Stones’ mega-hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," which attracted more attention than anyone anticipated. The band’s discomfort with their sudden popularity blares out through their admonition: "Don't hang around 'cause two's a crowd/ On my cloud." Nothing like being at the center of everything makes you need some time to yourself.
Beyonce, “All the Single Ladies”
Beyonce can care less what you think, she don’t need no permission, and she’s still a little bitter about the ring thing. But “All The Single Ladies” brilliantly embodies the feminine swagger and bravado made in the 1960s by groups like The Chiffons and The Supremes. Don’t just be content with being single. Celebrate it. Get your hands up, up in the club.
Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive”
If you’ve ever been to any party with a dance floor, you know how much this song means to people. Some call it the Gay anthem, but it’s also the theme song for countless women who’ve endured a tough separation, because Gaynor soulfully captures that exact moment after a break up when the attitude shifts from fear and despair to strength and independence.
Rufus Wainwright, “One Man Guy”
Growing up in a family of great musicians, Rufus Wainwright developed a total mastery of his instruments, and the lyrical ability to shed light on topics that are hard to discuss. Rufus’s father, Loudon Wainwright III, wrote “One Man Guy” and performed it for his 1986 album of the same name. Rufus’s adaptation is a visceral account of solitude: "I’m gonna bathe and shave/And dress myself and eat solo every night/Unplug the phone, sleep alone/Stay away and out of sight,” he sings. “These three cubic feet of bone and blood and meat are all I love and know/I'm a one man guy is me."
Jay Z, “99 Problems”
After Blue Ivy was born, Jay Z settled down into fatherhood and allegedly swore off ever using the B-word again. But before his Beyonce days, Jigga made one thing absolutely clear: He had a ton of things to deal with—getting pulled over, music critics slamming him, and radio stations not playing his songs. But girlfriends? Not among them.
Tom Waits, “Better Off Without a Wife”
Tom Waits has been married for 32 years now, but in the great 1975 album Nighthawks at the Diner, he toasted “to the bachelors and the Bowery Bums/And those who feel that they’re the only ones/Who are better off without a wife.” It’s a great testament to the urban underworld,and to Tom’s wild years.
Bob Marley, “No Woman, No Cry”
Plenty of musicians have assured us that everything’s gonna be all right. But leave it to the one with the Jamaican attitude to really make us believe it. Marley applies his home country’s “No worries” philosophy to being alone and the result is one of the best feel-good songs ever.
Wilco, “Born Alone”
Jeff Tweedy may be a married father, but he’s one of our the great iconoclasts and individualists of our time, always doing his own thing his own way. In “Born Alone,” Tweedy pulled random words from Emily Dickinson’s poetry and set them next to writing from Whittier and other poets from the 1800s. He’s said that final lyric, “born alone, born to die alone” is dire, defiant, and triumphant, and that the song ends with a series of repeating chords that ascend and descend to give the sound “like it’s endlessly going deeper and deeper into the abyss.” Solo or not, we’ve all been there.
Patty Labelle and Michael McDonald, “On My Own”
The #1 hit from LaBelle’s 1986 platinum album, “Winner in You,” this is a song about being alone, together. In the video, LaBelle and McDonald appear on separate coasts, in a split screen, and testify to the sweet sorrow of being solo after love ends. “I’ve got to find out what was mine again/My heart is saying that it’s my time again/And I have faith that I will shine again/I have faith in me/On my own.”
Morrissey, “I'm OK By Myself”
Where would a list about being alone be without Morrissey? But “I’m OK By Myself” is much less on the sad-sap end of Morrissey’s discography and far more proudly independent. He wants the person who left him to know this: He doesn’t need you. And he hopes that fact makes you throw up in your bed.
Jamie O’Neal, “All by Myself”
Possibly the most famous song to listen to while staring out a rainy window with a single tear drop on your cheek. Many musicians have tried but none of captured the true pain of isolation like O’Neal.
Jimi Hendrix, "Stone Free"
In the tradition of wandering bluesmen and free spirits everywhere, Hendrix celebrates his independence and warns women against even trying to tie him down. “Listen to me baby, you can’t hold me down…Stone free, do what I please/Stone free to ride the breeze/Stone free I can’t stay/Got to got to got to get away.” Has anyone else so perfectly captured the sentiments of men who won’t commit?
Jason DeRulo, “Ridin' Solo”
The companion piece to Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies, DeRulo says he’s sorry things didn’t work out, but he’s ready to move on because the pain is gone. “Better days are gonna get better,” he sings. “I’m feelin’ like a star, you can’t stop my shine/I’m lovin’ cloud nine, my head’s in the sky/I’m solo, I’m ridin’ solo.”
--Eric Klinenberg (With contributions from Jennifer Lena, Dan Ozzi, and Ed Russ (DJ Jah Karma)
Used by permission of Rollingstone.com--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
More About the Author
Klinenberg's previous books include Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, also published by the Penguin Press. Time Magazine featured Going Solo as the #1 Idea That is Changing Your Life in the March 12, 2012 cover story. Vanity Fair called it "trailblazing." Psychology Today called it "so important that it is likely to become both a popular read and a social science classic." The New Yorker argued that the book "suggests that our usual perceptions about life alone get things backward." And the Washington Post explained that "Going Solo is really about living better together--for all of us, single or not."
Klinenberg's first book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, won six scholarly and literary prizes (and was a Favorite Book selection by the Chicago Tribune), and was praised as "a dense and subtle portrait" (Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker); "a remarkable, riveting account" (American Prospect); "intellectually exciting" (Amartya Sen); and a "trenchant, persuasive tale of slow murder by public policy" (Salon).
Professor Klinenberg's second book, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media, was called "politically passionate and intellectually serious," (Columbia Journalism Review), "a must-read for those who wonder what happened to good radio, accurate reporting and autonomous public interest" (Time Out New York), and "eye-opening ...required reading for conscientious citizens" (Kirkus). Since its publication, he has testified before the Federal Communications Commission and briefed the U.S. Congress on his findings.
In addition to his books and scholarly articles, Klinenberg has contributed to popular publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, Fortune, The London Review of Books, The Nation, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, The Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique, Slate, and the radio program This American Life.
Top Customer Reviews
With regard to introverts, it is striking that Klinenberg does not even refer to Anneli Rufus and her book 'Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto'. This is a must-read for anyone writing about living alone. Klinenberg's bias towards extroverts and those who need interaction with others in order to maintain their mental health shows over and over again, especially in his writing about elderly people. For many people, reaching middle age and beyond is a wonderful time when at long last we no longer have to be around other people all the time and can enjoy that solitude we have been craving for decades. Those of us who are true introverts never need to worry about "filling empty hours" - it's unthinkable. We've spent our lives waiting for a time when we actually have more time to devote to the hundreds of things we've never had a chance to do because we had to spend so much of our time working. Klinenberg's cautionary tales about becoming ill are worth reading, especially in a country with such a horrific health care system, but he focuses solely on the really sad, horrible tales, mostly limiting his discussion to NYC.Read more ›
As in Heat Wave, the account unfolds through the eloquent use of academic literature, the compelling stories of informants, and the author's candid observations. Without revealing too much, I enjoyed how Klinenberg convinced me of the appeal of living alone. I often found myself wondering how the author, a married man with two kids, could explain with crystal clarity the thrill of making it alone of many women like me - buying a home on your own, finding your path, falling in love with your higher self. What I loved the most was how the author employed the "appeal" of the "social experiment" of living alone as the foundation for the discussion of the other side of the coin - the hardships and hazards of living alone in societies not yet equipped to serve legions of one-head householders.
As social scientist who studied for the last four years the condition of living alone in older age in America, I was pleased to finally, for the first time, read such an articulate and entertaining discussion of the many facets of living solo. I appreciated how Klinenberg draws the line between loneliness and living alone, how he highlights the issues of studying social isolation and the importance of proper housing policies. I was taken by the author's account of his grandmother's experience in a high-end assistive living facility (we know so little about life in these spaces!), his reflection on horrific nursing homes and unaffordable services for older adults, as well as his discussion of best practices in New York and in Sweden.Read more ›
There are three interrelated trends that are reshaping our personal lives and our society, and all three have been developing for decades:
* The rise in the number and proportion of people who are single (always-single, divorced, or widowed);
* The increasing number of years that adults spend unmarried rather than married, with the unmarried years now outnumbering the married ones; and
* The increase in the number of people living solo.
The last of those three is the topic of a book so important that it is likely to become both a popular read and a social science classic. It is Eric Klinenberg's just-published Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.
Does the title of this review sound like hype? I meant it seriously. This book really will change the lives of people who live solo, and everyone else. At least it should. The main thing standing in the way of an explosion of attention and impact is that the claims are not sensationalized. More people are living solo than ever before in human history. That's just a fact. If Klinenberg had tried to persuade us that, as a consequence of this rise in living alone, America was becoming a nation of isolated, lonely people, and that our civic and community life was in a long period of decline - well, then he would have an instant best-seller, hands-down! In fact, as he notes, the best-selling sociology books in the history of the United States have peddled just such dire messages.
If you wanted to see the rise of solo living as a bad, bad thing, you could comb through Going Solo, pluck a few choice excerpts, and make your case.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well, I bought this book hoping it will give me some tools to continue living alone better and shedding more light on other aspects on living alone. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Amr A. Eid
Interesting book. Id liked to have read more though about living solo is changing housing, food, transit, etc. It seemed to focus a lot of living solo when old.Published 10 days ago by Amazon Customer
This book was quite insightful and helpful. It explained many details quite clearly and was well-written! I recommend it highly!Published 1 month ago by Ryan T. Zelenski
This book is not what it appears. "The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone" is a complete misnomer. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Pikminfan
This book could be an insightful read for people who think that those who live alone are lonely, antisocial, or otherwise dysfunctional. Read more
Very interesting research, it took me some time to consider it, but it worth to do thisPublished 4 months ago by Liudmyla Kovalova
A really good book for all of us Singles out there/here! It is really great that someone addressed this issue in its positive light and focused on the benefits vs. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Joy D. Thompson
It's just a book of statistics. Don't expect to finish it. Glad it was cheap.Published 5 months ago by Joan Church