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The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century Paperback – February 1, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (February 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807000353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807000359
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This workmanlike book takes up where Robert D. Putnams classic Bowling Alone left off in examining the disintegration of community in 21st-century America. Americans, say the authors (both associate clinical professors of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School), have a conflicted views of community: on the one hand, they glorify rugged individualism and, on the other hand, they encourage community and look down on those who cast off community to go it alone. Drawing on interviews with their patients and on numerous studies, Olds and Schwartz point out that being a loner isnt all its cracked up to be, and many who shun community are surprised at how lonely and socially isolated they feel. The authors conclude that Americans drift away from social connections because of the frenetic and overscheduled intensity of modern life as well as the American pantheon of self-reliant heroes. The authors restate what numerous studies have already shown: social isolation can lead to unhappiness and can have a detrimental impact on ones physical well-being and that of the larger society. The repetitious and slightly haranguing style detracts from, rather than adds to, the authors message. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


In a wise, quiet, and gentle voice, Drs. Olds and Schwartz offer a devastating portrait of present-day American culture-the fragility of social bonds, the busyness that has become a badge of social worth, the conflict between the need for respite from the frantic pace and the gnawing feelings of exclusion and loneliness that accompany our attempts to slow it down. This is a book for our time, a book that calls all of us to take a serious look at the social and psychological costs of the way we live today. —Dr. Lillian B. Rubin, author of Just Friends, Intimate Strangers, and 60 on Up

"In today's society the pursuit of individual happiness, materialism, and the frenetic pace of life has led many people unwittingly into lifestyles where they feel lonely and excluded. Yet we know that such states are damaging to physical and mental health. In their important new book, Drs. Olds and Schwartz provide a compassionate and insightful analysis of the conflicting currents that have led to this state of affairs, and they describe ways in which this pattern can be changed through individual and community efforts."—Dr. Bruce S. McEwen, author of The End of Stress as We Know It

"An insightful, important, and comprehensive look at the causes and effects of the pervasive psychological and social isolation within contemporary American culture. The authors offer wise, compassionate, and helpful strategies toward the renewal of our essential human connections."—Janet L. Surrey, Ph.D. Founding Scholar, Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, Wellesley College, and Samuel Shem, author of The House of God

"If you want to know why, in the midst of so many and so much, Americans all too often feel alone and disconnected, this is the volume for you. Drs. Olds and Schwartz have written a book that is scientifically rigorous and socially acute, delving deep into the latest research on the neurobiology behind our need for connection and the adverse effects of social isolation, while also unpacking the dangerous cultural myths that would deny these needs. Hooray for Olds and Schwartz's sagacity, lucidity, humanity, and practicality. Read their book and take their advice for your own sake and for the rest of us, as well!"—Dr. William Pollack, author of Real Boys, Rescuing Ours Sons from the Myth of Masculinity and director of the Centers for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School

"Our contemporary situation is one of material affluence and social isolation. Olds and Schwartz provide a thoughtful and important analysis of how we came to cut ourselves off from one another, and what the consequences are."—Daniel Nettle, PhD, author of Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile

More About the Author

I am a psychiatrist in Cambridge, MA who writes books with my husband, Dr. Richard S. Schwartz. The books so far have been on the topics of lasting marriages, and social isolation. First we wrote Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life in 1996. Then we wrote Marriage in Motion:The Natural Ebb and Flow of Lasting Relationships. And more recently, we wrote The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the 21st Century. We live and practice here in Cambridge. We have two grown children, Nathaniel Schwartz and Sarah Elizabeth Schwartz. They are both married and we now have two grandchildren, Oren and Adella.
We have been interested in relationships and how their presence or absence affects everyday life since the late 1970s when we both became psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. Our books reflect both our own clinical experience as well as much sociology data which we researched while writing on these topics. They are all trade books written for non-professionals who are interested.
Our most recent project is the invention of a wearable sensor for bright light designed to help people get better sleep and boost their energy and mood. It allows you to know when you have received enough "bright light" in the day to help stabilize your circadian rhythm. (You can get the bright light from a therapeutic light box or sunlight.) The device is known as SunSprite and is available at the Amazon website.

Customer Reviews

I thought this book was both interesting and well written.
Kevin Caleb
The book is timely in that deep anxiety created by our deepening recession may cause many to become even more isolated and withdrawn.
B. Rogers
I will keep it for a reference in the future and have encouraged many friends and colleagues to read it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Saperstein HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There is no question that Americans are growing increasingly disconnected from each other. Bruce Putnam's classic "Bowling Alone" established statistically that Americans are no longer as community oriented and social as there parents and grandparents were.

As Spring erupts in my community, a pleasant urban setting, you can walk down the streets and rarely see children playing outside. The most frequently observed people on the streets are young mothers and their children or people walking their dogs. In recent municipal elections, roughly 7% of the registered voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Many people complain of feeling lonely. Studies, such as those cited by the authors, indicate that more and more people have fewer and fewer people in whom they confide, people they think of as friends.

It is argued by some that certain political movements desire this kind of social isolation. The authors don't make that argument and in this review, I won't either.

First, the authors are readable. They write well and clearly intend their work for a general audience. Kudos to them for this.

Second, unlike Putnam's work, the various studies they cite are not the heart of the book, but rather are offered as supporting material. They rely heavily on anecdotes from their respective practices. (Both are MDs.)

The result is a well done summary of the problem, its probable causes, it real and projected effects and a chapter that touches upon what may be done to slow the process.

It is, on the whole, a personal book - and in many ways the better for it.

Reading this book left me longing for people to discuss it with - perhaps proof of the pudding.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By B. Rogers on February 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely interesting, lucid, useful and timely book, dealing with the tensionin American life between the need to belong and the need for independence. Often the latter is driven by the pressure to seek refuge from lives that are too busy. Once on that path, however, people often discover that they have achieved far more solitude than is good for them. The authors document a very strong case for the profound, risks to mental and physical health that accompany excessive separation. The book is timely in that deep anxiety created by our deepening recession may cause many to become even more isolated and withdrawn.

My husband and I both strongly recommend this book, and we found the section on the neurobiology of attachment fascinating.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kate C. Flora on February 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In the fascinating way that some of the best writers--Michael Pollan comes to mind--combine science with specifics to illuminate their prose, Drs. Olds and Schwartz have written a book rich with studies and science, then relate that, using real human dramas, to so many of the specific dilemmas everyday people face. In a world where people increasingly seem to be retreating behind electronics, The Lonely American highlights the risks of such behavior and the patterns people get into that make it so hard to reconnect. This is a book to share and to think about. It reminds us of how our children can suffer from not being part of a group, and how our parents can suffer from the loneliness of widowhood, and the loss of friends that comes with aging. This is the kind of book you want to buy multiple copies of, so you'll have one on hand for a friend who needs to read it. This is also a book that will make you want to put it down, pick up the phone, and reconnect yourself.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Clara on March 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Lonely American is a well-written, engaging book that is relevant to all of our lives. The authors bring together research in psychology and sociology with stories from their own clinical experience to create a compelling picture of how people in the United States are (often unintentionally) isolating themselves. They frame loneliness, not as an individual problem, but as a societal problem, and seek to rid loneliness of the stigma it often carries in this society. Finally they offer suggestions about how to reconnect with the people around us. I have recommended this book to friends (whether they are lonely or not) and they all agree with the arguments put forth in this book and are inspired to make changes in their lives based on the suggestions provided by the authors. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By F.W. Dupee on January 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
I like this book. If you adhere to Aristotle's notion that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will find this a treasure trove. I like a book that is rich in salient observations and thoughtful ideas about life. If you like a book that stimulates you to stop and think and ponder what you have just read along the way. The Lonely American is one of those.

Example: socializing. "We treat socializing as if it is a frivolous diversion from the tasks at hand rather than an activity that is essential to our well-being as individuals and as a community." Think about this within the context of dual-income America and Daniel Bell's three axial thrusts, in particular the efficiency thrust which drives modern capitalism. America and Japan have perhaps the two busiest, hardest working citizenry in the world. And the latter, for at least a decade or more, admit in public that they lack a sense of joy in life--a rather extraordinary phenomenon in Japanese culture and equally odd that these feelings are only narrowly admitted in our more permissive American culture.

Another example, feeling left out. "The experience is part of human biology that no one fully outgrows; at best, one just gains a certain degree of mastery over it." One wants two respond on at leat two levels--a sense of relief to have the permission to feel this is a normal condition in life, and to take stock of the condition of one's inventory of social skills.
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