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Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection Hardcover – August 17, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eleanor Rigby might have been in worse shape than the Beatles imagined: not only lonely but angry, depressed and in ill health. University of Chicago research psychologist Cacioppo shows in studies that loneliness can be harmful to our overall well-being. Loneliness, he says, impairs the ability to feel trust and affection, and people who lack emotional intimacy are less able to exercise good judgment in socially ambiguous situations; this makes them more vulnerable to bullying as children and exploitation by unscrupulous salespeople in old age. But Cacioppo and Patrick (editor of the Journal of Life Sciences) want primarily to apply evolutionary psychology to explain how our brains have become hard-wired to have regular contact with others to aid survival. So intense is the need to connect, say the authors, that isolated individuals sometimes form parasocial relations with pets or TV characters. The authors' advice for dealing with loneliness—psychotherapy, positive thinking, random acts of kindness—are overly general, but this isn't a self-help book. It does present a solid scientific look at the physical and emotional impact of loneliness. 12 illus. (Aug. 25)
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Review

Superb. — Library Journal

A magnificent exposé. — Frans de Waal

Wise, beautifully written, and often funny . . . a tour-de-force. — Shelley E. Taylor, professor of psychology, University of California, Los Angeles
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (August 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393061701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393061703
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Freberg on August 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
From [...]

I just finished reading Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, which is coming out towards the end of August. The book summarizes, in very accessible terms, thirty years of work by John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago and his colleagues.

It's initially hard to get past the title. William Patrick, John's coauthor, relates how a friend reading an early manuscript found the word "loneliness" to be disturbing, even more so than "rape," "murder," or "death." This reaction fits perfectly with the major theme of the book-we humans are a very social bunch, and being cut off from other people, as in solitary confinement, might be the very worst punishment of all.
What I especially liked about the book is the constant, seamless integration of what we call "perspectives" in psychology, harkening back to William James. In other words, the neuroscience, social psychology, and cognitive science is all woven together so that you get the big picture. In other writing, John has compared psychology to a symphony, with the different perspectives contributing to the whole of our understanding just as the score, musicians, instruments, and conductor join together to produce fantastic music. He and William have definitely succeeded in bringing this integration to the study of loneliness. Given the all-too-frequent Balkanization of psychology into little subdomains, this approach is refreshing and informative.

Like William's friend, I found myself feeling sad at times while reading the book. I don't consider myself a lonely person, as I am blessed by having a close family and good friends. But I know a lot of lonely people, and reading the various case studies brought these people to mind in a vivid way.
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Format: Hardcover
The best part of this book are the scientific insights about how loneliness works and how it damages people. I learned many things I had never heard of.

I found it easy to read and well-written. It is interesting throughout, although sometimes it strayed far enough from the topic to leave me wondering how it got there. I must admit I didn't read it in one go and sometimes stopped in the middle of a chapter.

One of the blurbs claimed the book was funny. The only thing I found funny is when it compares lonely people, who find it harder to control themselves, to Phineas Gage, a worker who had a metal rod rammed through his brain. There is a nice drawing showing where exactly the rod went through. This is an exceptional feat of black humor, but I'm not sure it's intentional.

Another blurb, by no less than Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi (I love his book 'Finding flow'), claims that after reading the book you will never have to be lonely again. The book does make some attempts at giving advice, but never sounds very convincing. The authors are researchers who excel at understanding how loneliness affects people, but they don't seem to have much experience in helping them. They don't sound like they ever had this problem either.

The end of the book addresses the growing loneliness in the United States, and mentions some ways society has found to cope: mega-churches, virtual communities like Second Life, the corny fad of 'random acts of kindness'. Oh the horror. I've been through times when loneliness was almost unbearable, but I'm not sure I've ever been that hopeless.

I will definitely read that book again.
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Format: Paperback
There is some interesting novel research in this book (some of which you can read about online by searching for the main author "John Cacioppo"). Without a doubt John Cacioppo has done some extremely interesting work.

This book describes studies that hint at loneliness reducing our ability to tune out distractions, reducing our ability to complete "logical reasoning tasks", and reducing our ability to pursue long term rewards rather than immediate gratification. It is fascinating. I also found the descriptions of the physical effects of loneliness on health to be extremely interesting (increased morning cortisol and adrenaline etc.).

So if the research was what I was rating, I'd give it 5 stars. But unfortunately, I am reviewing the book and must give it 3 stars. Because, although not difficult in terms of content, this book is very poorly written. It goes off on useless tangents only marginally related to loneliness. I would be happy to read about chimp and bonobo society, in this particular book, if the authors actually related it in any way to the topic at hand which is loneliness. But the astounding thing is: they don't! They just drop one line in about loneliness in that chapter and think that is relating it! And half the book is like that, going off on one irrelevant tangent after another.

I think perhaps a coherent connection between all these different topics may exist in the author(s) head(s) but that they don't do a good job of drawing that connection out for us, and so we just end up with a bunch of scatter-shot irrelevancies. I wonder if, ironically, the incoherence of this book is caused by it's dual authorship.
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