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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 18, 2004
By the time the reader realizes that Urban Tribes doesn't even merit the genre "pop-sociology", he/she is sucked into the narrative of Ethan Watters' personal quest for meaning. The first several chapters explore human social behaviour in a form that many young adults are familiar with. With self-congratulatory tones, we read about how our post-college lifestyles have been beneficial not just to ourselves, but to the world. I, for one, wasn't concerned about whether or not my lifestyle had meaning and had never sought to prove its worth. This author, however, was clearly very concerned about the merit of his choices and uses the first half of the book to demonstrate that the Urban Tribe lifestyle is both steeped in human sociology and a novel way to deal with the vagaries of singlehood in the early twenty-first century. Even this section, while peppered with statistics, consists mainly of anecdotal evidence.
The second half of the book descends into personal narrative. Although I did find it quite amusing, Ethan's exploration of male/female relationships as they pertained mostly to himself and his friends did not as I saw it further the message of the earlier part of the book. I laughed as Ethan attempted to navigate various pop-psychology theories about mating, particularly when he tried to convince his friends that evolutionary psychology should dictate the rules of the game. Then there is his analysis of the latest dating advice books, such as The Rules. I hadn't realized that anyone had taken them seriously, but there was an astonishing amount of articles pressuring women to marry. It is all very entertaining.
At the end, as Ethan describes his happy marriage and the transition from tribe-life to married-life, I felt dissatisfied. If this was to be a book about the Urban Tribe, it should not have become a book about marriage. If this was a book about marriage, why muddy it with the concept of Urban Tribes? In the beginning, he takes great care to describe how the "never-marrieds" of his generation are much more than single people, and how they are forging a new type of life for the coming century. However, his ending reveals that he too believes that marriage is the eventual goal for all people. I don't have a problem with marriage, but I think he lost his way on his own argument.
In summary, this book contains a great introduction to the Urban Tribes concept, followed by a very funny personal narrative about dating, and ends with an analysis of marriage in our times. I cannot say it was a good book, but if I had read each of its parts individually, I would have said I enjoyed them all.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2003
Ethan Watters has written a book about an interesting topic that has just recently begun to draw national attention: those of the current generation who are in their late twenties to late thirties and have not yet married and started families. According to the author, many of these "yet to be married" have formed cohesive social groups which he calls "urban tribes." These tribes, formed on the basis of friendship and sometimes intimate relationships, seem to have taken the place of the traditional family.
The first part of this book is generally introspective and autobiographical with Watters drawing on his own experiences in attempting to understand his own status as a "yet to be married" member of an urban tribe. The latter part of the book is more outer-directed and analytical, and Watters discusses some social theories and sociological data which may help to shed light on the development of this new type of community.
There are a few initial problems with which the author wrestles early in the book. One is the difficulty with defining exactly what an urban tribe is and what differences and similarities may exist that characterize various tribes in varying settings. A second is the question of why so little attention has been paid to this phenomenon and why it has had so little public recognition. Finally, a question that I think is at the core of the book: Why have so many of these "yet to be married" opted to settle into urban tribes instead of forming a conventional family as previous generations have done?
These are interesting questions and Watters approaches them in a number of ways at various stages of his very personal quest. Along the way the reader will be introduced to the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert, the American Association of Single People, the activity of "social networking," the problem of defining the word "single," an academic discipline called evolutionary psychology, information about mating behavior, and the concept of "social capital." The reader will also hear about the author's attempt to glean some insight from experts at a national convention of the American Psychological Association and the author's participation in a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Philadelphia to which, Watters pointedly notes, no Hispanics had been invited.
One of my favorite segments, however, was the author's discussion of "gossip and grooming," a notion based on the work of biological anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who suggests an intriguing association between the use of language and the size of groups we humans choose to socialize in. Monkeys and other nonhuman primates spend a great deal of time in the practice of grooming one another. The time and effort involved in this grooming seems to have some effect on the size of the social group with which the individual animal associates. After all, there is only so much time a monkey has for this type of activity. Dunbar theorized that human beings had replaced grooming with talking, specifically gossiping, and that the size of a human social group might be limited by the number of people one could effectively gossip with. There's more to this matter, of course, and I have oversimplified my description of it, but the entire discussion of gossip and grooming is rather fascinating, as are the conclusions that Watters draws at the end regarding its usefulness in understanding the size of human groups.
I suspect that this work will appeal more to those in their twenties and thirties than it will to people of my generation, the one which came of age in the 1950s and 60s. My peers and I were still attached to the notion of the traditional marriage and family fast-track which had been the heritage passed down to us by a previous period. Things have apparently changed since then and Watters, who is in his late thirties, sets out on a personal investigation to find out why his generation has deviated from what once was considered the "norm" -- finish your education, find a job, get married, and start your family, without much lag-time in between these stages.
This is not to say that those of the generation prior to the one described by Watters have nothing to learn here. Undoubtedly they do. The fact that many of the senior members of contemporary society are critical of the current trend of young men and women waiting until much later to get married and have children shows, at least, that they are becoming cognizant of the phenomenon. To his credit, Watters does confront this criticism head on and he attempts to deflate it, explaining that things may not be as bad as some critics have suggested.
This is not a book written from a sociologist's perspective. Watters is a journalist by profession and his writing is very personal throughout the book; he is actually involved much of the time in investigating his own life and the choices he's made. While clearly understanding the serious social impact of the topic he discusses, Watters still manages to write with a bit of wit and humor and a flair for mixing objective analysis with subjective synthesis, not an easy thing to do when dealing with any subject, especially with one as complex and illusive as social interactions. "Urban Tribes" is a good first-attempt at analyzing and understanding an interesting contemporary issue.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2004
I felt duped. This book is not about "urban tribes" so much as the author, a newly married father writing about his playboy days and the friends he used for emotional support. As a character, he seems superficially charming and not enough flawed. His attempts at self-deprecation amuse but are too shallow to fully engage. As a memoir, the book lacks honesty and universality. As social science, it lacks science. Too bad - the subject deserves some depth.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2004
This is a book that started out as a magazine piece and probably should have stayed there. It's sloppily edited, repetitive and presents a grab bag of anecdotes as if it were a serious analysis of social trends. It's an attempt at social science without the science.

While the title concept is appealing and has some promise--I can think of "urban tribes" that I know of--it's the execution of this concept that is disappointing. While the book is entertaining at times, it's not based on much. And, sadly, the author seems to buy in to the notion that singles in their 20's and 30's are just biding their time until the inevitable: marriage. He pays almost no attention to people who don't desire marriage, or to gays and lesbians who may want to get married but can't.

Although the phrase "urban tribe" conveys a certain cutting-edge hipness, Watters' underlying premises are about as square as they come. How sad to think that time with friends is just a means of marking time until one gets married, or that being single in one's late 20's or 30's should be a cause for desparation or angst. I'd like to think that marriages/serious partnerships and meaningful, lifelong friendships can co-exist more harmoniously than Watters implies.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2004
I decided to review this book even though I haven't finished it. I don't need to finish this book to know that it's very shallow and does not offer complete insight in the so-called URBAN TRIBE. After the first chapter I regretted that I bought it.
As I began reading the book, I got the strange feeling that somewhere I had already read this book or something similar to this book...little did I know. I'll come back to that later. Even though I knew nothing (or cared nothing) about the Burning Man event, I plowed through, hoping I would find something of interest. As a 34-year old black female, I had no interest in the Burning Man. I had actually hoped that the book would be more about ALL of us who have never been married, black, white, Hispanic or other. Turns out, the only folks who will be able to identify with this book are those of a particular subset of white culture. I thought this would be a book that EVERYONE could see themselves in. It's not. Please, if you're interested in understanding what the "Friends" and "Seinfield" folks do AFTER the shows are over, check this book out of your library. Don't spend money on it.
As I was saying earlier, this book sounded familiar because one of the author's best friends is PO BRONSON, author of What Should I Do With My Life, or something like that. Yeah, I bought that book also, thinking I could identify and maybe I could find someone like me. I couldn't. It turns out that Mr. Watters and Mr. Bronson and 15 of their closest friends share a loft/workspace of some sort in San Francisco. They're all writers, artists and other creative types. It's obvious that they all rub off on each other because Mr. Watters' book sounds so much like Mr. Bronson's book. Different subject, but same group of people. Even the typeface looks the same. The review on the back of Mr. Watters' book includes a review from Mr. Bronson and I'm sure the rest of the reviews are from the other writers who live/work in that loft. Take a close look at the folks below who reviewed this book...they live in San Francisco (or somewhere on the West coast) and they each gave the book five stars. Why? Any of us could have written this book, it took no effort whatsoever to write about his friends and how they spend their spare time. As for Mr. Bronson's book...don't get me started on that one. I actually almost made it to the end...but with four chapters to go I couldn't take it any more. I'll save that for another review.
At any rate, I'm not sure who this Urban Tribe book would be useful to except friends of Mr. Watters and Mr. Bronson and people just like them. There are hordes of people like them, therefore I'm sure this book will make lots of money, which is what it's all about anyway. And in the end the regular "never-marrieds" will still have lots of unanswered questions.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2005
I really have to say I'm surprised at the negative reviews and low rating of this book. I know it helps that I love and study the topics he covers in this book, but even for people who don't follow it so closely... I found this book to be approachable and enjoyable at the same time. While you read through it, you think to yourself that a lot of it is something you've always known about yourself and the way your social structure works, but at the same time have never quite stopped to think about it specifically. I found his thoughts on these matters to be useful, though like I said most of what he talks about shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I've already recommended this book to friends and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys the topics of social networks and friendship structure.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2004
The fact that this book got published defies comprehension. It's poorly written, the author is completely unlikable and self-absorbed, and it's supremely repetitive. After suffering through so many pages, I realize that this is just another example of a media company wanting to cash in on a trendy catch phrase: "Urban Tribes." It suckered me. Please, don't let it sucker you.
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on May 4, 2014
I read this book for our book club. It was sort of interesting but much of what was stated seemed obvious now. It may have been a new twist to the thinking of how people saw themselves as groups in the late 1980's through the early 2000's, but much of what seemed like revelations then now seem natural. On reflection, some of the concepts may have been around for as long as people have been migrating from one area to another. The author tires to explain the increasing number of late marriages among the people of his generation and in doing so gives us a glimpse into the "self actualizing" generation of the 80's and 90's. I do like the term "tribe", however, to describe a close knit of friends! It feels like it brings back a primitive notion that "family" is not just who your sisters, brothers, mother, and father are, but that friends can be family too.
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28 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2003
When I purchased this book, I thought that it would be an interesting exploration of people like myself--urban professionals who are in their late 20s and early 30s and unmarried and childless. Instead, I found a dreadfully boring account of the author's tepid exploration of this cultural trend. He didn't seem quite interested in the topic himself--just kind of aimless, self-absorbed and bored enough to wonder. This half-hearted soul searching was repeated over and over with little insight, fostering a very frustrating sense of vague deja vu. Please, people. He is not the spokesman for my generation.
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on September 20, 2015
Ugh. Not a sociological analysis of generational trends - just the musings of a self-involved, naval-gazing boor. No great insights here, no careful research or analysis. I couldn't even finish it. So annoying.
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