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The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community Hardcover – August 4, 2014

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393063967 ISBN-10: 0393063968 Edition: 1st

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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.


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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: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful 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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By SeattleSounding on August 11, 2014
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By alfiya on December 12, 2014
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. Turner on March 2, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Disclosure: This is a mixed review of a well-written book.

First third of book: History, review and nostalgic look at changes in how we used to relate to our neighbors. (OK old information)
Middle third: Presentation of a three ring model lamenting the loss of community, rural and small town, direct contact with neighbors of all income and social levels in the middle ring and description of a new and primarily electronic outer ring. (OK very useful model, not oversold)
Last third of book: Inclusion of lots of interesting information, findings and discoveries, none of which provide answers, paths or even connections to address or ameliorate suggested shortcomings in our knowing a broad cross section of our neighbors. (OK but for what purpose?) If you were a geologist or soils engineer, it would be similar to declaring a collapsing part of a neighborhood to be a sinkhole, talking about sports to the bystanders and then going back to the office to work on some other project. No three options, no costs, no bold ideas.

The writer tries very hard to be politically neutral, but fails ultimately by seeing a lot of things through an often labeled "progressive" lens which is academic speak for liberal. Conservative comments seem to be harsher than democrat comments although he doesn't appear to me to see big government as having any useful answers or a history of solving all that many community based problems. Based on the above, the book could be shortened by half with no loss of meaning and improved by a bit less unintended bias against conservatism.

Major complaint. To this reader, and I read the entire book and some of the endnotes, the book fails significantly by leaving community-based Judeo-Christianity out of the last third of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Shinji Tsubohara on December 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book introduces many interesting research findings. But the author uses various keywords loosely, and his reasoning is confused in many places. For example, I can't understand exactly what he means by the word "township" or "townshipped." He seems to define the word as "a social structure dependent almost entirely on the strength of the middle rings" at page 129. But then, it's almost tautology to say, "A society rich in middle-ring relationships can maintain the norms of township life" (p.145). Or, he also says, "the Constitution (...) was designed to accommodate townshipped community" (p.194). Does he really mean the Constitution guarantees the middle-ring relationships? Furthermore, he uses the word "network" to describe society replacing townships. But the middle ring should also consist of networks of relationships between people, as he himself says, "The host of changes to the landscape of American life and the rhythms of our everyday routines have combined (…) to substitute networks of loosely connected contacts for traditional townships" (p.143). He doesn't explain why he uses this term specifically for outer-ring relationships. He should have started writing this book after structuring his thinking much more clearly.
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