Bowling alone : the collapse and revival of American community

by Robert D. Putnam

Paper Book, 2001




New York : Touchstone, 2001


"Putnam's work shows how social bonds are the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction. For example, he reports that getting married is the equivalent of quadrupling your income and attending a club meeting regularly is the equivalent of doubling your income. The loss of social capital is felt in critical ways: Communities with less social capital have lower educational performance and more teen pregnancy, child suicide, low birth weight, and prenatal mortality. Social capital is also a strong predictor of crime rates and other measures of neighborhood quality of life, as it is of our health: In quantitative terms, if you both smoke and belong to no groups, it's a close call as to which is the riskier behavior."--BOOK JACKET.

Media reviews

''Many Americans continue to claim that we are 'members' of various organizations,'' as Putnam writes, ''but most Americans no longer spend much time in community organizations -- we've stopped doing committee work, stopped serving as officers and stopped going to meetings. And all this despite rapid increases in education that have given more of us than ever before the skills, the resources and the interests that once fostered civic engagement.'

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
I'm doing my best not to hold sundry of Putnam's shortcomings against him: first, there is entirely too much corrobrating evidence and statistical detail on the decline of social capital for readers of a putatively generalist book that wants to change real things in real America (we just want the flashiest factoids, some reassurance that there's more where that came from, and then on to the discussion); second, though it was perhaps inevitable, he misreads the internet as TV 2.0 (it was 2000) and doesn't anticipate the complex effects of social media; third, he has little in the way of prescriptions (though of course neither do I); and there are lesser ones like his failure to consider more than two racial-cultural groups (black and white, of course) and a kind of general tone of bringing dark tidings that just, I dunno, I was 20 in 2000 and I think we were all very aware that neoliberalism was bringing losses of community with the increases in individual consumer/lifestyle freedom, but I guess Putnam was older and writing to many of his generation who perhaps had a bit of false consciousness and were repairing picket fences on the sunny suburb of the heart and not looking around and realizing how dire things had become. Watching "Friends" instead of seeing friends, as one of P's better oneliners goes.

No, I am not going to over-fuss and walk out about these things, because the empirical scholarship is certainly there as a base and then on top of that this is a rallying cry, a histology (back to the last time things got this bad in the US, in the "Gilded Age" of the late 19th century, giving rise to new forms of community action, organization-based dogooderism, etc., in the "Progressive Era" of the early 20th), an etiology (TV is huge, which is why a proper treatment of the lonely crowded internet as a complex development is key; so are commutes; so are women working outside the home … and the book does do a good if perfunctory job reminding us that social capital too has its potential price in social repression a la the 1950s--and if our social capital is rising again now I would say that it is coming with new orthodoxies, no longer fifties monolithic but multiple and parallel as our likeminded communities are), and a polemic on the seriousness of the effects of the loss on our democracy, our economies, our happiness, our schools, our health. It does these things well, and they are important things. It'll be pretty clear to you which parts you can skim.
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LibraryThing member piefuchs
I classify Bowling Alone, which discusses that decline of "social capital" in the US, as part of my pregnancy reading. I have been wanting to read it for quite some time, but the thoughts of the isolation of not being at work for a longish time, and the idea of the different life my child would lead growing up near Boston, rather than in small town NS, inspired me to final bend the bindings. What I discovered was a very well written and exceptionally well researched book. Bowling Alone is a rare "artsy" book in which the author start with a premise and provides data to support or refute his own premise. While none of the ideas he come up with are at all new, the manner in which he addresses the growing problem of lack of trust between citizens through prioritizes his ideas based on data certainly is.

While in general, he presents the substantial lowering of attendance at clubs as an inherently bad thing, along with the notion that the separation of people in cities relative to small towns is a bad thing, I appreciated the chapter he added to examine whether many of the clubs weren't a superficial search for sameness in the first place. When you lived in both an intolerant cohesive small town and a tolerant larger city, you start to realize that having everybody know your name (and your business) can be a burden as much as a security blanket.

The one issue he did not examine that I wish he had covered was how the change in corporate values has crossed over into the rest of people's lives - i.e. decades long loyalty to the firm means nothing come layoff time. Additionally, as is usually the case in long books that do a great job in defining issues - his chapter on solutions is very weak and devoid of supporting data.

Worth reading, does make you think.
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LibraryThing member joeythelemur
Wow is all I can say: what a landmark book. It's difficult to review due to the sheer scope, but Putnam does a masterful job of making sense of huge reams of data. There is a compelling case that our social capital in America has been slowly eroding for decades, even though many supposed indicators of social engagement have not reflected that. An incredible work and one worth revisiting someday.… (more)
LibraryThing member heidilove
horrible. while putnam writes well, he is hoodwinked into thinking that the era where everyone rushed to join up for whatever everyone else was doing is somehow preferable to the era of individualism which followed it. he paints those after the sixties as slackers, sitting mind-numbingly in front of the television, consuming whatever they are told to. in actuality, it is the members of the fifties themselves who were so paranoid about not fitting in that they created consumptive lifestyles to checklist their inclusion. those in the sixties were too busy tuning in, turning on and dropping out to be part of the slacker mindset -- most didn't have eletricity let alone television.… (more)
LibraryThing member lesserbrain
A oft-quoted, but little read piece of American social science. In the field of civic engagement this is the new book to know. Really a breakthrough in social science research. Finally, if you are reading this review you are living this competeing with this book's thesis---Welcome to "Virtual" social capital!
LibraryThing member gmmoney
I loved this book! A fascinating analysis of the decline of civic and social participation in American society. Every community organizer should read this. Putnam's prose is very accessible and his analysis makes for an interesting read.Will be interested in exploring Putnam's websites to see what he thinks of the developments with the internet and the impact the Obama campaign have had over the last ten years.… (more)
LibraryThing member bkinetic
The data Putnam collected and analyzed represents a major achievement. Yet, after doing all that hard work he failed to go very far down some paths his data showed him. For example, more Americans are part of the work force than in previous decades, when many two-adult families had only one adult in the work force, leaving the other free to participate in community and neighborhood activities. The phenomena of overwork and overspending, explored brilliantly by Juliet Schor, is tied to the decline in social capital, but in this book is not given its due.… (more)
LibraryThing member ddonahue
The present withdrawal of the individual from social organizations now resembles the situation after WW I as depicted in Chapter IX of Eckstein's Rites of Spring, in which he describes veteran's eschewal of social commitments.
LibraryThing member horacewimsey
Excellent book. Read it for an undergraduate political science class. From this book, my interest in social capital really took off. I bought several books on the subject after reading this one, but this one is the very best. Highly recommended.



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