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The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community 1st Edition

4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393063967
ISBN-10: 0393063968
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Editorial Reviews


“Marc Dunkelman gets it. In The Vanishing Neighbor, he shows how the traditional web of relationships that makes up American life is undergoing fundamental change, why it matters, and what we need to do about it.” (President Bill Clinton)

“After a panoramic view of how the United States has changed in so many ways, Marc Dunkelman argues that Americans are left with a sense of isolation from neighbors nearby: we keep 'inner-ring' relationships with family and close friends plus 'outer-ring' with Facebook friends we see infrequently, but we have lost middle-ring relationships with families down the street and a barber around the corner. Institutions, Dunkelman believes, must adapt to these new realities, nourishing a fresh sense of community. This is an insightful call for remembering what Tocqueville found best about America.” (David Gergen, codirector of the Center for Public Leadership and professor of public service at Harvard Kennedy School and senior political analyst, CNN)

“A highly ambitious, wide-ranging book that offers important new insights into why the bonds of community have unraveled in America in the past generation.” (Alan Ehrenhalt, author of The Great Inversion)

“In The Vanishing Neighbor, Marc Dunkelman conducts us insightfully through the work of astute sociologists and other observers of American social life, from the time in the 1950s when they described a conformist and confident society to the confused and more uncertain period of today. He focuses on one significant change: the transformation of the American 'township,' a defining characteristic of American society since Tocqueville first identified it, into something quite different. As Dunkelman ably shows, rapid economic change, the digital revolution, and other factors have fundamentally altered our social life, our political life, and our ability to solve the problems of a rapidly changing society.” (Nathan Glazer, professor emeritus of sociology and education, Harvard University)

The Vanishing Neighbor is an urgent, challenging, strongly reasoned argument about the health of American society. Marc Dunkelman speaks directly to the communication gap between our local communities and the governments that serve them. How we bridge that gap—as working people, as political leaders, and as neighbors—will determine the care we provide to our loved ones and the opportunities we leave our children for years to come.” (Neera Tanden, president, Center for American Progress)

“A rich and accessible diagnosis of contemporary mores and discontents.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A meditation on the evaporation of American exceptionalism… thought-provoking [and] evenhanded.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Important… provide[s] fresh thoughts about community in the United States that might win assent from left and right alike.” (E.J. Dionne Jr. - Washington Post)

About the Author

Marc J. Dunkelman is a Research Fellow at Brown University’s A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and a Senior Fellow at the Clinton Foundation. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, and National Affairs, among other publications. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393063968
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393063967
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
More than a decade ago I read Robert Putnam's seminal book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community". It was one of the best books I ever read. Mr. Putnam proffered that the American people were becoming increasingly isolated from one another. He pointed to the decline of such fraternal organizations as the Elks Club, the Knights of Columbus and the Rotary Club that had thrived in the postwar era as evidence of his theory. I thought Putnam made a very compelling case for his position. Recently, I came across a brand new book that revisits many of the issues addressed in "Bowling Alone" and offers some alternative explanations for what is really going on in American society these days. In "The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community" author Marc J. Dunkelman offers up an altogether different set of reasons why it appears that the American people seem less engaged than they used to be. Once again, I could not put this one down.

As fantastic as it might seem, in "The Vanishing Neighbor" Marc Dunkelman compares the way Americans have now sorted themselves out to the planet Saturn. He writes: "Conjure up the image of the planet Saturn. As you may recall from the diagram on the wall of your third-grade classroom, the solar system's sixth plant is orbited by a series of gaseous rings, each of which extends on what appears to be a single plane. That image offers a perfect way to imagine how individuals sort their family, friends and acquaintances." Central to the author's presentation is the idea that over the past couple of decades Americans have made a conscious decision to spend more and more time "cocooned" with those closest to them. This group (usually nuclear family and closest friends) comprise the so-called "inner ring".
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Format: Hardcover
Dunkelman argues that prosperity and technology are changing the way Americans interact with each other, causing a decline in "middle ring" contacts that were the hallmark of the American township model of community. we are freer than ever to limit our interactions to people most like us, which makes us individually happier but collectively weaker. Rather than forming bonds through casually talking with neighbors about the weather, we can type endlessly about arcane hobbies and interests with like-minded strangers around the world. Our institutions are failing because they were constructed on the social architecture of the bygone township model.

The argument is compelling if not always cohesive. Dunkleman reproduces the ideas of many prominent sociologists and explains how their work supports his clam that individual decisions on how to allocate leisure time are altering our culture in potentially harmful ways. There is a wealth of fresh thinking and careful observations here. Even though Dunkleman's separate arguments run together and grow muddled as the book proceeds, I still recommend the book to readers interested in new thinking about American social culture.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful exploration of how one’s day to day social interactions interplay with our society on many levels. The data and topics are presented in an approachable and easy to understand manner. After completing the book, one can’t help but reexamine one’s own relationships both on a personal and global scale and how the terms of these relationships affect our thoughts and mores. Quite interesting and entertaining.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been thinking.... If someone is sick - why not understand the reasons for the development of sickness, instead of just shoving pills and performing surgeries on people? What's wrong with this system, and why this is happening? "Vanishing Neighbor" by Mark Dunkelman has one answer to my question -- by looking at how society changed, and why, it pretty much summarizes what I have observed myself in the last 14 years working in Silicon Valley, with the introduction of "uniting technologies" that are mentioned in this book. I now clearly see why people feel more isolated walking on a street and more "plugged in/connected" when they are on-line. I am also agreeing that laws and institution were built to accomodate a completely different era, that they are rather obsolete, and broken - and we see the results on daily basis... take Healthcare and Education. Such an extensive research and data driven narrative. Excellent excellent source of information for those who are eager to consider new policies for new era.
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By Sbt on December 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I heard Mr. Dunkelman speak and then bought his book. He speaks to how our spheres of contact no longer include the middle folks: our neighbors, our "Christmas card" friends, those with whom we are "friendly but not intimate." We once interacted with many different kinds of people (doctors, grocers, plumbers, teachers and the like), and thus had relationships that encouraged discussion and compromise. This is missing today, and means we have lost our neighborliness, once a hallmark of American life.

He discusses how he believes this happened, but does not go so far as to suggest a way to fix it. I think that is a good thing, and I recommend this as an interesting take on the problem of our disconnectedness.
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