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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

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Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work--but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified in this brilliant volume, which The Economist hailed as "a prodigious achievement."

Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans' changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures--whether they be PTA, church, or political parties--have disintegrated. Until the publication of this groundbreaking work, no one had so deftly diagnosed the harm that these broken bonds have wreaked on our physical and civic health, nor had anyone exalted their fundamental power in creating a society that is happy, healthy, and safe.

Like defining works from the past, such as The Lonely Crowd and The Affluent Society, and like the works of C. Wright Mills and Betty Friedan, Putnam's Bowling Alone has identified a central crisis at the heart of our society and suggests what we can do.

544 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Robert D. Putnam

28 books327 followers
Robert David Putnam is a political scientist and professor of public policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also visiting professor and director of the Manchester Graduate Summer Programme in Social Change, University of Manchester (UK). Putnam developed the influential two-level game theory that assumes international agreements will only be successfully brokered if they also result in domestic benefits. His most famous (and controversial) work, Bowling Alone, argues that the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social, associational, and political life (social capital) since the 1960s, with serious negative consequences.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 779 reviews
Profile Image for angela.
25 reviews30 followers
April 1, 2008
Despite it's "Best Seller" status - this book left a lot to be desired. Like anyone else who knows a thing or two about political participation and social capital, this book rings hollow and insincere at certain points.

Briefly, Putnam rests far too much of his argument on the decline of traditional, conventional "community organizations" of a previous era (like The Lion's Club, the Elks or the Masons). He pays scant attention to how divisive, racist, sexist, and homophobic many of these organizations were and how they all demanded a degree of conformity. Furthermore, he manages to write off the importance of both social movements and support-based groups in a single, short chapter without acknowledging the way that social movements allow new flexible forms of participation or how support-based groups may allow a greater degree of "bonding" and "bridging" social capital. If you take an AA meeting or a meeting for single parents, of course the people in these groups have a single thing in common but they are just as likely to have many things not in common, such as the neighbourhood they live in, the type of job they have, and racial background.

Further to this, his means of measurement are simply not adequate. Using the GSS to track club involvement is disingenuous, for example, because they ask "Were you a member of this type of club?" The answer is yes or no, and does not allow individuals to count the multiple kinds of clubs they belong to of a single kind (such as belonging to two environmental clubs).

There is certainly something going in American - CONVENTIONAL forms of political participation and civic participation are declining, but there are many emerging forms of participation which Putnam writes off or ignores altogether. He acknowledges that we need to find new ways to participate that that fit our current era as the old kinds of community organization may not work, but at the same time he ignores, writes off, or undervalues the ways in which people are already participating in new and innovative ways - such as support groups, continuing social movements, community festivals, pick-up sports leagues, short-lived issue based groups, more flexible forms of political participation, and the multiple kinds of participation that are made possible by the internet and related forms of technology.

Still, there is a great deal of valuable information in this book and a number of keen insights but Putnam's needs to open his mind up to new, innovative, and unconventional forms of participation and networks in order to make a more convincing argument.
Profile Image for Leonard.
6 reviews5 followers
November 2, 2007
God this book is painstaking. (Read: painful.) It's good, it's thorough, and I read all five hundred pages or whatever. But the writing style induces anguish. It's so full of qualifications like: "But this correlation doesn't imply causality" or "Even when we hold race, class, gender, education, and imcome constant..."

I'll save you hours of your life and give you the summary: Throughout the twentieth century, more and more Americans were participating in clubs, having dinner parties, going to church, volunteering, working on political campaigns--until the 1970s. Then, this steady increase in partipation became a sharp drop, and civic life continues to decline.

Various things could have caused the decline: women entering the work force, racial integration, the internet, longer commutes, busier work schedules. Really, though, the evidence points to two main things that caused this decline: television and generational differences (the baby boomers were less likely to volunteer, Gen X even moreso, and so on).

This is a shame, because people who are involved in civic life (even something as small as playing cards or hosting dinner parties) are more likely to vote, to volunteer, to have friends, to create safe neighborhoods, to make more money, etc, etc.

This book might just finally get my ass in gear to do the volunteering I've been talking about.
Profile Image for Orrin Woodward.
Author 59 books289 followers
March 6, 2012
Robert Putnam's books was several books in one.

The first section (about the first 4 chapters) drew me in with a synopsis of the decline of community in America.

The second section, through chapter 15, nearly put me to sleep. :) Thankfully, however, I kept reading because from chapter 16 until the end of the book was so good, that I give it 5 stars despite the slogging in the middle. Putnam's five keys for social capital was worth the entire book. Here is my takeaways:

Putnam list five specific areas where the trust and understanding inured by social capital helps translate aspirations into realities:

1. Social capital allows citizens to resolve collective problems more easily through improved teamwork.
2. Social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly through improved trust.
3. Social capital helps widen the awareness of fellow citizens that their fates are intertwined through improved understanding.
4. Social capital serves as conduits for the flow of helpful information and resources to accomplish community and individual goals.
5. Social capital improves individual lives through psychological and biological processes. In fact, numerous studies suggest lives that are rich in social capital cope with trauma and illnesses significantly more effectively.

Despite social capital’s overwhelming advantages, Putnam acknowledges its decline, writing, “Americans have had a growing sense at some visceral level of disintegrating social bonds.” Furthermore, he writes, “More than 80% of Americans said there should be more emphasis on community, even if it puts more demands on individuals.” In sum, social capital isn’t just the fuel for Social Power – a necessary check on State Power – but it also enhances individual lives through the sense of belonging engendered within communities. Strikingly, then, the decline of social capital, not only attacks society’s freedoms, but also attacks an individual’s well-being. Simply put, America cannot remain free without a revival of Social Power through building social capital in voluntary communities. With so much at stake, why aren’t more people focused on restoring voluntary communities throughout America and the West?
Profile Image for Rossdavidh.
510 reviews146 followers
December 27, 2021
So, I am extremely late to the party, here. I have been seeing references to "Bowling Alone" for twenty years, since well before I became concerned about the topic. As a young adult, I was a somewhat extreme individualist libertarian, not terribly good at socializing anyway, so I saw no reason to be concerned about, for example, a decline in membership in bowling leagues. Reading books is a rather private form of recreation (aside from writing Goodreads reviews, of course), and I was more interested in a hike in a state park alone than in accumulating a stock of "bonding" or "bridging" capital (Putnam's terms for the links within, and between, groups of people).

As time passed, I became gradually convinced that I was incorrect in this, and that it did actually matter if people in a society knew one another well enough to offer a hand to another in need. Maybe it was the times I was moving from one apartment to another, and found that having some friends to be able to call upon helped. Maybe it was seeing and hearing enough tales of people who did not have such a circle of support, and the problems it could result in (some of them a lot worse than having to hire a moving company). Most likely it was a slow accumulation of knowledge, that revealed that life is complicated and uncertain, nobody has all the answers, and you are much better off if you have a stock of "social capital" to draw upon when in need (which requires that you be there for others as well). At some point, I'm not exactly sure when, it occurred to me that I should read "Bowling Alone", but it never quite rose to the top of the mental TBR stack until now.

I will leave it to your imagination to figure out why I decided at this point to read a book about the importance of face-to-face socialization, and why it may be problematic to replace (to take one example from the book) active membership in a local political movement, with meetings and speeches and teach-ins and so forth, with "checkbook advocacy", where you send in money to a group of professionals and have them advocate for you.

Because, in many ways, this is simply part of the ever-widening circle of specialization that has been moving through human society for millennia. We used to all grow (or hunt) our own food, but now most of us pay specialists to do that for us. We used to weave our own clothes, but now we have specialists to do that for us. We used to craft our own tools, tell one another tales or sing songs together for entertainment, build our own homes. All of these are now done for us by specialists, and we in return do our one thing (whatever it is), and that is how we earn the money to pay for those specialists to do all of the other things. We are, therefore, a lot less practiced at how to grow food, make tools, build homes, and so forth. In many ways, our atrophying ability to cooperate in a democracy is just one more example of this general process.

But, as Putnam goes to great lengths to show, it is not inevitable. In particular, he wants in this book to tell us a tale of "this has all happened before". In the late 19th century, America was at a similarly low point of "social capital", and found the wherewithal to rebuild it through the Progressive Age, ending up producing a generation (now called "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw) that was better at cooperating and socializing in all its facets, than had been seen in living memory. Therefore, he posits, it is possible to reverse the current trend of decay once more.

First, of course, he must convince the reader that we are in fact seeing something new, and this is not just a typical case of nostalgia causing us to imagine the past to have been superior in some way. He calls upon a great diversity of data sources to demonstrate that we have, in fact, seen a significant decline in "social capital", and it takes 150 pages or so. The most convincing source of data, for me, is that provided by studies in which people provided information on a daily basis of how much time they had spent doing this, that, and the other. Sure enough, we spend a lot more time alone than we used to, and it shows up in crime rates, voting rates, volunteering rates, and membership rates for nearly every kind of organization. We trust each other less, and we are right to do so.

Second, he looks at a variety of possible causes, while informing us from the beginning that he has no single smoking gun. The closest he has, at that point in 1999, was television, which was not only clearly correlated to the problem (chronologically, geographically, and demographically), but also expanded to fill the hours in our day which had once been filled with bridge clubs, PTA meetings, board meetings, political rallies, and the like. But this does not explain all of the decline, as even those who do not watch much TV have become less socially connected over the decades. In some ways it seems that TV, like excessive alcohol or inappropriate use of opiates, may be exacerbating problems whose origin comes from elsewhere. Putnam looks at a variety of other potential causes, and finds them mostly less convincing: pressures of time and money (mostly not actually greater than in the past), the automobile and associated sprawl (but people have the option of living closer to work and mostly choose not to), divorce and the rise of two-career families (but the decline in social activities is also seen in that portion of society which is living in single-career, two-adult families). He concludes this section with a partial explanation, and to his credit admits that there are substantial parts of the mystery left to explain.

Third, Putnam takes us through a long list of studies and other evidence that all of this matters. Many, like my young adult self, find the prospect of having a lot of neighborhood meetings to be psychologically exhausting (I guess that's still true of me today), and perhaps its decline a matter for relief rather than concern. Putnam believes (probably correctly) that the less practice we have at getting along with other people in person, the worse we are at it, and the less likely we are to have help when we need it. Suicide rates go up, connecting job seekers with employment gets harder, neighborhood schools do not work as well, and both property and violent crime rates tend to go up, when social capital goes down. Some of this may be partly effect rather than cause (if you think you live in a dangerous neighborhood, you are less likely to want to leave your house to go out into it), but some of it is not, and much of it is both. The rates of mental illness and suicide do seem to be connected to the general decline in social capital, and it is difficult to argue that this is cause rather than effect. I was not (anymore) especially skeptical, but I thought this section was fairly convincing. Throughout this book, I would regularly use my smartphone to check on wikipedia for some topic or other, to see what had changed since it was written over twenty years ago. Things had almost never gone in the direction one would wish. Violent crime was one of the only exceptions, but unfortunately in the last year and a half murder in particular has gone back up to levels not seen since the early 1990's. A decline in social capital is perhaps not the only problem, but I am convinced it is part of the problem.

The fourth and final section looks at the episode in American history which he hopes for us to take inspiration from. Rapid technological change, an influx of immigrants from many nations who did not know or trust one another, the movement from country to city, all led to a decline in social capital. Putnam acknowledges the imperfections and downsides of the Progressive Age (Prohibition comes to mind), but clearly wants us to see it as a validation of hopeful prospects, and as evidence that if we decide to do something about the rising tide of alienation, we can succeed. Unfortunately, he lays out throughout this section a series of goals for the year 2010, which actually made this section of the book rather dispiriting. Let us just say, our stock of social capital in 2020 did not seem to be better than it was in 1999 when he was writing this.

So, in the end, what does a reader in 2021 take away from it?

1) real life, in-person socializing matters, and an absence of it is strongly associated with a plethora of ills

2) we are not as good at this as we were a few generations back

3) we could get better, if we decided to, although it might take something like World War 2 to make us decide it was worth the effort

Given the current aversion to being in the same room with other people, even for work, it is not easy to be optimistic about the near future. On the other hand, perhaps the current collapse of social capital is what is required to lead to a general consensus that it is a problem that needs addressing? Regardless of that, Putnam's book holds up for the most part rather well, at least in its framing of the problem, and I'm glad to have finally gotten around to reading it.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
586 reviews4,735 followers
May 23, 2020
This book examines what Putnam believes was the downfall of civic participation or civic health throughout the 20th century in America. In order to prove his points, he uses a truckload of data to illustrate what he believes was the slow but steady decline in American community participation over the century. At the same time, he uses discussions of the makeup of communities in order to transform the numbers into something personal.

He first talks about how people get involved in their communities, whether it be by meeting people in church, people collecting in organizations, people getting involved in local politics. He discusses what kind of person is more likely to be a "joiner" (my words, not his). He also breaks down what he thinks is responsible for neighbors being more distant than in years previous.

Through the whole book he’s using the numbers to hint at the fact that, at one point, America hit a peak of civic participation (it seems as though be believes this may have been in the 1960s), but then began to degrade. In fact, much of the author's language reflects that grander opinion; this book turns a change in social behavior through the 20th century into an alarmist warning signal that we may all cease talking to each other unless something drastic is done. He may as well have just written, "Mayday! Mayday!" for the book's 500 page duration.

The use of language that is normally reserved for the wipe-out of species off the face of the planet is extreme and unnecessary in this context. It suggests a trend of decay with an not-so-subtle threat of extinction and one can catch a whiff of "well, back in MY day..." Mr. Putnam, when precisely can we expect the World Wildlife Fund report about the extinction status of our communities? It's been 20 years and it has yet to hit my desk.

This is one of those books that was very important at the time and gives later readers of the book an idea of what communities looked like at the end of the last century. In fact, I'd argue that it's immensely interesting looking back at a world largely untouched by the internet to get a sense of where we all started before we were all connected at the tap of a finger.

But it's precisely the fact that the internet now exists that shatters the fears that make up this book. As I stated above, all I observed through his data was that American society was changing throughout the 20th century - and why wouldn't it? Coming out of WWII, the nation was becoming increasingly productive. Women went to work and stayed there. People began having smaller families. Things gradually began getting more expensive. Perhaps the drifting away from the Kiwanis Club isn't because people stopped caring, but because they had so many more things to occupy their time.

But right as this book was being published, the internet exploded onto the scene and now all of us are more connected than ever before. Maybe all the time burdens we all faced back in the 20th century and still do face in the 21st made us even more eager for a way to more easily connect with friends and strangers alike. But to read Putnam's book in a world where Zoom calls, multiplayer gaming, endless discussion forums, YouTube communities (and endless other examples) exist, it was hard not to chuckle at his alarmist view. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 (in 2020, heh) and we now have data that he didn't, but his decision to see change as degradation was certainly a uh...choice.

Like Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, this book was meaningful in a moment in time and may be valuable for anyone who wants to take it on as a window into said period of time, but as the data isn't all that relevant for the modern reader, this one is best read as a summary.
Profile Image for Michael Payne.
63 reviews67 followers
November 21, 2018
Turn off your television. Talk to your neighbors. Take a walk. Play a game with your family. Read a book. Plug back in to your community.

Close your social media accounts.

It is that simple.

It is that hard.

Ultimately, Robert Putnam identifies the rise of television as the tipping point that triggered the decline of community.

Cut the cord.
Profile Image for Christy.
113 reviews275 followers
January 1, 2017
The classic that triggered the movement to study and document the collapse of "social capital" - obligatory and reciprocal social relationships that build through more regular human interaction with neighbors as well as in groups like bowling leagues (hence the metaphor in the title) and civic groups. By the end of the last decade, arguments for strategies and interventions that would augment "social capital" in both individual and communities were vogue in grant applications, showing how quickly Putnam's ideas became institutionalized.

I've used an excerpt of this in my Intro. SOC class for a decade now and it's helpful for students to understand the context for the increasing alienation and dysfunction they feel in their own lives, especially when supplemented with the data that over a quarter of U.S. adults can name not a single friend and social isolation is a huge problem (and increasingly pointed to as a cause, not a consequence, of substance abuse and mental health problems.) There is also data from "gated communities", the phenomena separating the "haves" from the "have nots" around the world, that while residents naturally list security as a top attraction, "knowing your neighbors" was another top-listed reason, then many apparently drew a blank when later in the survey were asked to list neighbors they knew by first name. Only a small number listed even one. (This was a sociology study of gated community residents in Houston, TX, that was one of the original cities that started gated/locked communities. Of course, those Houstonites knew that their neighbors weren't brown or black skin, generally, so we know what is important about our neighbors in gated communities - they are wealthy and white!)

Putnam is a good Liberal and no radical, but I can't help think that he didn't simply document what Marx predicted long ago, that capitalism would lead to alienation of self from others as well as from ourselves.
Profile Image for ambyr.
879 reviews77 followers
December 10, 2016
This is one of those books that I suspect of being cited (and argued against) far more often than it's read. In my head, I had it classed vaguely as pop social science. Turns out, I was very wrong. Bowling Alone may be the most academic book I've read since leaving college, and at times I felt like I was being beaten to the ground by statistical clubs coming at me from every direction. But despite the leaden density and occasional painful-in-retrospect predictions about our technological future, this is an important book, one that's challenged many of my assumptions and given me a new framework in which to consider everyday events.

And no, I don't just like it because it, like me, is critical of cars, critical of televisions, and willing to blame the Baby Boomers for planting the seeds of so many of our current social ills. But I admit those things don't hurt.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
December 15, 2017
I think the book is more "academic" than needs to be and I believe there are good counterarguments that he does not consider (what about all the literature on introversion being undervalued), but over all, I think I agree that we need more social capital and I think he makes a very good case that it's important enough to pursue as social policy
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
497 reviews725 followers
August 2, 2016
This is a famous book, but “Bowling Alone” was not what I expected. What I expected was social commentary. What I got was social science, proving with reams of statistics what is now a commonplace, that social capital in America has eroded massively over the past several decades. Of course, that it’s a commonplace is due largely to this book, published in 2000 as a follow-up to a 1995 article, so that’s hardly a criticism of the book. But, paradoxically, it’s not clear that most readers nowadays will get much value, by itself, out of reading this very valuable book.

That’s not to say readers can’t get much value out of this book. But to do so today, you have to evaluate the data it provides with frameworks it doesn’t provide. I found that reading this book while keeping in mind some of the insights provided by Yuval Levin’s recent “A Fractured Republic” helped me better understand the causes of the decline in social capital. In particular, Levin notes that after World War II, Americans have become increasingly individualistic, in a rebound effect from prior consolidation, which helps explain the trends Putnam documents.

Putnam begins by convincingly demonstrating that the same pattern of erosion of social capital has occurred in nearly every area of American life. That pattern is, basically, an increase in participation (and resultant social capital) at the beginning of the 20th Century; an even greater increase in participation after World War II; and a precipitous fall-off from roughly 1970 through the 1990s. He demonstrates that this is true of all forms of political participation, civic participation, religious participation, workplace interactions, informal social connections, volunteering and philanthropy, and mutual trust.

After proving this erosion to his, and the reader’s, satisfaction, Putnam tries to figure out why this has happened. He carefully parses various possibilities, from increased pressures for time and money, women entering the work force, suburbanization, TV and the Internet, generational change and others. He concludes there is no single culprit and each of these has some responsibility, although TV is the largest driver. Putnam considers only materialist drivers and does not consider philosophical shifts in American thought, probably because those would be difficult to capture in social science surveys (although it seems to me it could be done, by asking about opinions, rather than activities, while keeping in mind that such self-reporting is subject to all sorts of biases and inaccuracies).

Putnam does an excellent job of sub-analyzing the data he presents. For example, he is careful to distinguish trends across generations from those occurring within generations (generally, intra-generational trends are swamped by inter-generational trends—in other words, it’s the younger generations in which social capital is actually eroding). He is also careful to note where the data is uncertain, and to avoid sweeping conclusions. And he makes interesting distinctions that are relevant to his arguments, such as between bridging social capital, that creates new connections among disparate people, and bonding social capital, that creates tighter social connections among people with something in common.

Finally, Putnam optimistically lays out a program for restoring social capital, analogizing the current age to the late 19th Century Gilded Age and, among other things, citing Booth Tarkington’s laments about the decline of social capital in the early 20th Century as evidence, given the increase in social capital later in the 20th Century, that the pattern can be reversed. Putnam’s specific suggestions are not very detailed—they are couched as, for example, “Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 significantly more Americans will participate in (not merely consume or ‘appreciate’) cultural activities from group dancing to songfests to community theater to rap festivals.” How this is to be done Putnam does not really say, other than to claim that “top-down versus bottom-up” is a false dichotomy—“the roles of national and local institutions in restoring American community need to be complementary.”

But the problem here is that top-down actions have been a major cause of the problem of eroding social capital, and one that Putnam mostly ignores, since he assigns causal value exclusively to bottom-up causes. Long before Putnam, commentators noted that the growth of the Leviathan state was crowding out intermediary institutions of the type whose decline Putnam decries. In 1953, Robert Nisbet pointed this out, though he did it qualitatively, not with Putnam’s quantitative approach. Nisbet noted that as Leviathan grows, as it did from Progressive times on but most of all starting in the 1960s, intermediary institutions decay, since people seek meaning, and when they cannot obtain meaning on the local level, they will turn to national meaning, thus strengthening the central state (while obtaining only counterfeit meaning).

Similarly, this year (2016), Yuval Levin (who extensively cites Putnam) noted that “As the national government grows more centralized, and takes over the work otherwise performed by mediating institutions—from families and communities to local governments and charities—individuals become increasingly atomized; and as individuals grow apart from one another, the need for centralized government provision seems to grow.” Moreover, “In liberating many individuals from oppressive social constraints, we have also estranged many from their families and unmoored them from their communities, work and faith. In accepting a profusion of options in every part of our lives to meet our particular needs and wants, we have also unraveled the institutions of an earlier era, and with it the public’s broader faith in institutions of all kinds.” Levin points both to the expansion of government and to a widespread acceptance of “expressive individualism” as causes for the erosion in social capital.

These are the type of framework insights Putnam does not provide, and they suggest that government may be the problem, or a large part of it. That’s not to say that the national government is unable to help with the decline in social capital, but it is to say that its nature is not best suited to that role, and recognizing its culpability in the erosion of social capital is necessary to properly analyze the problem. Similarly, it’s important to recognize philosophical shifts in Americans themselves.

In fact, at no point does Putnam assign blame to government action as a possible base cause for the national decline in social capital (although government actions, such as splitting Indianapolis with an interstate, do occasionally figure in anecdotes). The huge increase in government scope and power that began in the 1960s is exactly coterminous with the drop in social capital that Putnam documents. That, by itself, proves nothing. But it’s at least a coincidence that is worth addressing, and Putnam doesn’t. Government, in fact, figures nearly not at all in Putnam’s book, other than indirectly, with respect to individuals’ reduced civic engagement in the political process. In my mind, this blind spot is the biggest defect of Putnam’s book.

That said, I am less convinced by a related frequent criticism of Putnam’s argument—that he ignores modern reasons why Americans might choose to be less politically involved, such as the perception both on the Left and the Right that the system is “rigged.” The supporters of Bernie Sanders point to the political power of the rich and connected; conservatives point to the federal government’s, and particularly the Supreme Court’s, seizing of power that used to be devolved to the local level, where individuals could have an impact. But if you think about it for a little while, those things may be true, and they may affect civic engagement in politics, but they say little about areas of social capital other than political involvement, such as religious involvement and workplace interaction. Therefore, this seems like a weak criticism, although attractive to those who view the world solely or largely through a political lens.

Putnam has written books since this one, including a recent one on income immobility which seems like it might be very interesting. I’m curious if there is data from the past fifteen years on the trends that Putnam addresses. While “Bowling Alone” does have a website, most of the links in it don’t work, which is too bad. If he hasn’t already, it’d be great if Putnam updated some of his data from this book, and let us know if his analysis and conclusions have changed.

For example, Putnam notes that non-privatized (i.e., public) religious belief is the single largest driver of social capital. How has the modern tendency away from religious belief, accelerating since 2000, affected social capital? And, of course, this book was written before the rise of social media (although Putnam does discuss Internet social activity in some detail, as it existed when the book was written, including its impact on reducing constraints of simultaneous timing on communication, and the “poverty of social cues” in Internet communication). How has the utter dominance of Facebook and similar media affected social capital? These, and many similar questions, would be worth answering.

So, while Putnam’s conclusions have, I think, been very valuable for society, I’m not sure that actually reading this book is necessary or valuable for most people. But if you are very interested in the topic, and read this in conjunction with other works, it may well be worth your time, even today.
Profile Image for Dan Connors.
321 reviews45 followers
November 13, 2020

Bowling Alone originally came out in 2001, and it captured a disturbing trend better than any other book - the decline of social capital. Capital is usually thought of in terms of money. If you have money in the bank you have financial capital that can be used later on. There is also educational capital (knowledge), working capital (equipment and buildings), and human capital (skills and know-how). But the type of capital that gets forgotten many times is social capital, or the large number of relationships and connections that make a society run smoothly.

Robert Putnam is a political scientist and professor at Harvard, and this is his most famous book. The title refers to the big decline in bowling leagues in the late 20th century. Fewer people bowling in groups is just one of many examples of how social capital has declined as more people strike out on their own and walk away from clubs, families, groups, and organizations.

Putnam looks at six main areas where there used to be a robust network of social connections, now there are much smaller groups of fanatics and huge swaths of disconnected, lonely people. The book is rich with charts and graphs, and the author obviously did his homework in compiling this depressing trend. According to the book America was awash in participation and socialization up until things changed around 1960. From 1960 to 2000, when the book was published, there was a steady and undeniable decline in participation rates everywhere. The effect this can have on mental health is staggering to contemplate.

1- Putnam starts by detailing the decline in political participation. Even though registration became easier as the 20th century concluded, voting rates declined. Turnout dropped from 63% in 1960 to 49% in 1996. People across the board showed less interest in attending civic meetings, working on campaigns, signing petitions, and running for office. (2020 has proven this wrong with a 65% turnout rate, but that rate may turn out to be an aberration because of the candidates involved)

2- Participation in civic groups has plummeted since 1950, and that decline has continued through to 2020. Groups like the Rotary, Elks, League of Women Voters, Boy Scouts, Optimists, PTA, and labor unions have all seen precipitous declines in membership. The only groups that are gaining members are ones that don't require attendance at meetings like AARP, or most political groups like the NRA and Sierra Club. The effect of the loss of these groups is hard to assess, but many were forums for discussion of important local issues, places to meet others in the community, and breeding grounds for future political and economic leaders.

3- The decline of organized religion has been bemoaned for its moral and theological impacts, but in terms of social capital, churches are vital especially for small communities. Church is where many relationships are forged, and were many civic skills and norms are generated. Church attendance has declined up to 50% in many areas, and the impact here is also hard to assess. Churches had been active in volunteering to help needy populations, erect schools, and support sports leagues. According to Putnam the only churches that grew in the late 20th century were evangelical ones, and they have tended to be more internally focused and less likely to reach out to the community at large.

4- In the workplace, social capital has taken a hit as well. People stayed at the same job for less time, more of them worked part-time, and more were converted to temporary or gig workers. That, plus the huge declines in union membership have made the workplace a more "survival of the fittest, every man for himself" kind of atmosphere. Union membership is down to less than 12% of workers, from 35% at their peak, and their lack of strength gives management much more power to control the work environment, while workers struggle to keep their wages and benefits.

5- Putnam looks at how even informal social connections have been hit by this trend. Bowling leagues were once popular activities for groups, and now bowling alleys survive barely with the occasional traffic that lone or small groups of bowlers provide. The same can be said of bridge clubs, golf outings, and softball leagues to some extent. The rise of the internet and our addiction to screen time plays a big role here since 2000, with family dinners and neighborhood parties taking a big hit. We spend much less time doing sports and outdoor activities, and more time watching them. The rise of fast food restaurants has also cut down the "schmoozing" time that helped create social capital, and people get in and out of place like McDonalds much faster than they used to at the corner diner, where once the staff actually knew your name.

6- Finally, the book looks at volunteering and philanthropy. We are less likely to give to charity now than we used to be, and the ones who do give to charity are generally the wealthy who want something out of it. Volunteering has actually dropped more since the publication of the book, with rates nearing 25% after being over 30% in the 1990's. Many blame lack of time for this decline, but after reading this book I think the decline of social capital is more to blame. Not only do more people feel no responsibility for their community, many actively distrust and fear their fellow citizens. (Positive responses to the poll question "Do you think people lead as good lives- honest and moral- as they used to?" fell from 50% to 27% in the last half of the 20th century)

After presenting all of this depressing data, Putnam turns to the question of why is this happening? He comes up with many possible villains- time, economic downturns, urban sprawl, family structural changes, more working mothers, economic structural changes, and mass media. Somehow, he comes up with this formula, which is purely his opinion, though he backs it up with solid arguments.
- 10% of the decline is due to time and money pressures
- 10% is due to urban sprawl and more time commuting to work
- 25% is because of technology and mass media (primarily television because the internet was just taking off when this book was published)
- 50% of the change is caused by generational shifts. The people of the greatest generation (born 1910-1940) who built up the social capital had different life experiences than generations that followed. Different early life experiences made them value community more than other generations.

(My own take on the culprits- is that 75% of the cause of the decline of social capital is television, the internet, and other mass media. The other 25% could be a mixture of all the above, but the generational thing is way off in my opinion).

So why do we need social capital and what should we do about it? It turns out that social capital is vital to the transmission of ideas, solving of problems, and completion of projects. Part of the reason lawyers are so powerful in ages of low social capital is that no one trusts anyone else, and contracts have to account for any and all negative possibilities to keep both sides honest. Civic pride and connection has been proven to improve mental and physical health as well as community prosperity.

There is actually a social capital map of the United States, presented in this book, that shows where people like and trust each other and where they don't. States with high numbers of Scandinavian descendants like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Vermont have high levels of social connection, while states where slavery was prevalent- Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi rank low. In areas where there is an active municipal life like New England there is more social capital and cooperation, while in areas where people are more ruggedly individualistic- like Alaska- people are pretty much on their own. Looking at a political map of the US in 2020, this explains a lot of the current divisions that we see.

Putnam points to social capital as a vital resource when it comes to improving education and child welfare, and children are less likely to fall through the cracks when more adults are on the lookout for problems. Crime is also less of a problem in high social capital areas, especially in cohesive neighborhoods where people know each other and look out for their neighbors. Social bonds are shown to help with general health because there is a bigger safety net for those who get sick, there are more healthy norms (like exercise, proper diet, and mask-wearing in pandemics) that are observed by more people, and just the fact that humans are social creatures and tend to do worse in isolation than in groups.

In the world of politics, the loss of community has led to more polarization, as the most involved partisans are generally more at the extremes of any debate. Politicians cater to extremists because they can be counted on to donate and vote. Politics has become more nationalized and less local, and people join groups that tell them what to think about issues, rather than the reverse. In a true democratic system communities would have thoughtful deliberations and high participation levels. What passes for debates these days is more like yelling past each other. The "otherization" of people who disagree with us has made constructive debate almost impossible.

Putnam puts some historical context that shows how social capital rose during the first half of the 20th century, and points briefly at the Progressive Era for many reforms that helped. His latest book, The Upswing, covers this trend and its resultant downturn, with an interesting proposition that another upswing in social capital is on the horizon. He notes that for many the 1950's and 1960's were less than ideal, and many of the civic groups now in decline were once homes of the racial and sexual discrimination of their times. Women and minorities weren't even allowed as members in many of the older civic groups.

There are trade-offs with building up social capital and building relationships with others, and a big one is learning how to compromise and occasionally conform to the expectations of others. (For anybody who's ever been married or lived with another person for a point of time- you all know exactly what kind of compromises have to be made, but there are also many benefits.)

In the revised edition there is a chapter that was written in 2020, mostly about the internet and what it's done to society. Putnam says the record is mixed, but there is plenty of damage done when people relate to screens more than to fellow humans. The interesting point that the book makes is that online social capital is not enough- people have to interact in real life too. Online contact allows us to meet people we normally would never meet, but in order to make the relationship real and meaningful it needs to be what Putnam calls an alloy relationship- both online and real. Online only relationships are vulnerable to algorithms, anonymity, transience, and curated fakeness that sabotages authentic ties.

In the 2001 edition the author sets some very ambitious goals to accomplish by 2010 that didn't happen. Putnam writes:

"we need to create new structures and policies (public and private) to facilitate renewed civic engagement. Leaders and activists in every sphere of American life must seek innovative ways to respond to the eroding effectiveness of the civic institutions and practices that we inherited."

The agenda for the 21st century as he saw it when it first began included:
- designing cities to enhance interactions and communications
- improving civic education and instilling those values in youth and schools
- making democracy more of an active pursuit and getting more voter and citizen participation in decision making
- re-thinking the workplace to make it more conducive to long-lasting relationships
- re-imagining religious institutions to make them more relevant to communities
- making arts, culture, mass media, and sports more participatory and inclusive rather than passive, isolating, and depressing.

There has been some progress since 2001 in these areas, but it feels like we went backwards, especially in the political and media areas. Still, Putnam has done a masterful job identifying these trends, and his work still holds up 20 years later.

This book gave me much to think on. As a baby boomer, I've seen the erosion of community from my own perspective. My old workplace used to sponsor a softball league, and now those are long gone. The civic organization that I belong to, the Granite City Optimists, has dropped from over 30 members to just a handful. Most disturbingly, rampant individualism has taken over the political sphere to the point where we have created an everyone for themselves country where freedom to be a billionaire is valued over any community concerns like health care, climate change, and income inequality.

As a lifelong introvert, I tend to want to be an isolationist. But another part of me wants to feel a part of something meaningful that's beyond myself. As with anything else, there is a delicate balance between selfishness and selflessness, and this book portrays a pendulum that has swung way over to the selfish end. The Progressive Era of 1890-1920 was a pendulum swing that raised social capital, and this book and its sequel, The Upswing (which I will review later) gives me hope that things may be about to change again.

Is history just a bunch of pendulum swings that we all follow along with, or are we creating history with our choices? Can a society thrive when individualism overshadows social capital? Stay tuned to the 21st century and find out.

Profile Image for Martin Dubéci.
156 reviews175 followers
March 11, 2017
Texty opisujúce nevrlosť personálu na úrade, či v nemocnici , patria už medzi klasický žáner slovenskej blogosféry a facebooku. Každá bytová schôdza končí hádkou a zároveň je to jediné miesto, kde so svojimi susedmi prehodíte viac než pozdrav. Blbé vzťahy na pracovisku. Blbá nálada.

Dôvera medzi ľuďmi je kľúčová pre chod spoločnosti. Ak je vysoká, hovoríme o veľkom sociálnom kapitále. Ten sa prejavuje okrem dôvery aj vo väčšej kvantite a kvalite interakcií medzi ľuďmi. Znamená to viac spolkov, krúžkov, komunitných aktivít. Pre väčšinu z nás to znie ako z iného sveta. Nečudo, Slovensko sa v rebríčkoch úrovne sociálneho kapitálu vyskytuje na posledných miestach. Doslova.

V prieskume OECD z poslednej jesene sme skončili na poslednom mieste v odpovedi na otázku, či dôverujeme svojim spoluobčanom. Nedôvera a neexistencia sociálneho kapitálu je jedna z hlavných príčin na pozadí mnohých našich spoločenských problémov. Prakticky vôbec sa o ňom nehovorí a politika ho ignoruje.

Bowling alone

Americký politológ Putnam videl pred 20 rokmi v americkej spoločnosti podobný problém. Komunity sa rozpadávali a vzájomná nedôvera medzi ľuďmi sa prehlbovala. Bowling alone(“hrať bowling osamote”) sa stalo klasickým dielom, ktoré skúma príčiny a dôsledky úpadku sociálneho kapitálu.

Suburbanizácia, dlhé dochádzanie za prácou, či televízna zábava nahradzujúca potrebu ľudského kontaktu patria podľa Putnama medzi hlavné príčiny toho, že v druhej polovici 20. storočia došlo k úpadku sociálneho kapitálu v každej oblasti - od počtu spolkov, dobrovoľníctva, dôvery v demokraciu až po neformálne stretávanie sa ľudí.

Ešte zaujímavejšie však je vyzdvihnúť efekty dobre fungujúceho sociálneho kapitálu. Spoločnosť nemôže fungovať len na základe donucovacieho aparátu štátu. Ak ľudia majú dodržiavať pravidlá a efektívne spolupracovať, musia to robiť hlavne dobrovoľne a z presvedčenia.

Efekty takéhoto prístupu sú obrovské. Ekonomická veda opakovane potvrdila, že v spoločnostiach s vyšším sociálnym kapitálom sa ľahšie obchoduje, získava kapitál na podnikanie, platia sa faktúry a menej sa podvádza. Sociálny kapitál je bariérou pre kriminalitu mládeže. Ak žije v silných komunitách a väzbách, ťažšie skĺzne na šikmú plochu.

Rovnako výrazné sú efekty v prípade zdravia. Výskumy opakovane potvrdili, že sociálny kapitál je jedným z najvýraznejších faktorov ovplyvňujúcich našu spokojnosť a následne zdravie - od náchylnosti na civilizačné choroby až po mortalitu. V prípade duševného zdravia či depresií je tento vzťah očividný.

U nás mimo radar

Vráťme sa na Slovensko. Krajinu, kde si navzájom neveríme. Prvou poznámkou v takýchto debatách býva výčitka politikom. Žiadna kauza sa nevyšetrila, klamú nám do očí. Bezpochyby, má to obrovský dopad na spoločenskú atmosféru a vôbec to nebagatelizujem.

Moja výčitka slovenskej politike v tejto téme však ide hlbšie. Problematika neexistencie sociálneho kapitálu sa na jej radare prakticky nenachádza.

Pre ilustráciu. S nástupom extrémizmu a jeho popularity u mladých počúvame veľa o potrebe naliať do nich správne hodnoty a svetonázor. Je podivné, že popri tejto ambícii napríklad ministerstvo školstva od roku 2008 znížilo dotáciu na podporu mládežníckych aktivíttakmer o polovicu.

Podpora občianskej spoločnosti skrz daňovú asingáciu je spochybňovaná a mimoriadne vrúcny zákon o sponzoringu slúži jedine na podporu profesionálneho športu a daňové odpočty veľkých podnikov. Naše územné plánovanie, forma akou tvoríme verejný priestor na tieto veci nemyslí a výrazne ustupuje preferenciám súkromných aktérov. Cielená podpora spolkov finančne alebo poskytnutím priestorov úradov/škôl či tvorba komunitných centier sú vecou náhody a nikdy sa nepostupuje systematicky.

Odvrátenou tvárou existujúceho dopytu po spoločnosti sú potom vlakové hliadky, alebo polovojenské jednoty ako “branci”. Je na nás, aby sme ho napĺňali niečím zmysluplnejším.

Fungujúca spoločnosť, potom štát

Je zrejmé, že to ako funguje náš verejný sektor musí prejsť zmenami. Štát sa musí správať funkčnejšie - normálnejšie. Ak však tieto zmeny majú mať nejaký efekt, bez zmeny v tom ako sa správame k sebe v spoločnosti to nepôjde. Štát nevyrieši každý problém, nebude dozerať na pokoj a vľúdnosť v každom susedstve. Čo je však ešte dôležitejšie, zmena v politikách štátu nemusí viesť k tomu, o čo v podstate ide - k väčšej spokojnosti ľudí. Na ktorú, ako ukazuje Putman vo svojej knihe môžu mať efekt práve veci mimo záber toho čo očakávame od politiky.

Vo svojej podstate však ide táto téma ešte do niečoho hlbšieho. Potreby nájsť v našej spoločnosti niečo, čo ju spája. Konzervatívci by na tomto mieste povedali cirkev. Dnešná doba však ukazuje, že toto už nefunguje pre všetkých. Extrémisti pracujú so zvrátenou verziou nacionalizmu. Musí existovať aj niečo iné. Predstava o spolupatričnosti, záujme jedného o druhého, pod ktorú budú spadať bieli, čierni, fialoví - všetci čo tu spolu vedľa seba žijeme. Nie negatívne vymedzovanie sa.  Záujem o krajinu (ozajstný patriotizmus?), ktorý stojí na moderných a občianskych princípoch.

Rovnosť, bratstvo, sloboda. Základné demokratické krédo. Veľmi často sa zaoberáme slobodou a rovnosťou. Až symbolicky je uprostred bratstvo. Nezabúdajme nato. Bez toho to celé nebude fungovať.
49 reviews3 followers
April 11, 2008
I'm not sure I could give full justice to this book in a hastily written review, so I'm not going to try. Robert Putnam's seminal treatise on social capital is jam-packed with statistics and information to back up his claims that social capital has been on a serious decline since the 1960s, much to the detriment of American society. He delineates a difference between two types of social capital--bonding (strong ties to a small inner circle of people, like family) and bridging (weak ties to a diverse and sprawling array of people)--and the struggle to balance between the two, even while both are declining. He explains the history of social capital and the decline, the possible reasons contributing to the decline, reasons why the decline of social capital is bad for society and suggestions for things that can be done to slow the decline. Everything he says is extensively researched and cited. Every time I thought I had come up with a counterargument or a detail he had missed, he addressed it a few pages or chapters later. The only problem with the book is that it was written in 2000. A surprising number of things have changed in the last eight years, including but not limited to: 9/11, Katrina, George Bush, Facebook/Myspace, broader expansion of use of the internet, 2008 Democratic Primaries, Iraq War, rise of the "green" movement, cheaper air travel, etc. In the last section of the book, he challenges society to make a series of changes by 2010, changes that sound somewhat impossible to achieve in so short a time. But, after just these eight years, it seems that much of what he prescribed is on its way to coming true, and I am very curious as to what he would have to say about it. Unfortunately, I think his research has moved on to other topics (diversity...). In any case, this is a very important book about the way members of our society interact (or don't interact) with each other and what that means.
Profile Image for Chloe.
63 reviews
August 15, 2019
I was once so excited to read this classic tome! I am interested in theories of social capital and other vital yet tough-to-measure (and therefore, perpetually undervalued) things in our stats-centered world. I am squarely in this book's target audience. I should have been an easy fan.

Instead, this ended up being a total slog through thick, poorly organized prose. Worse yet, I found myself frustrated and actively disagreeing with many of Putnam's takeaways. I know this piece is nearly 20 now, but how can you use "declining PTA membership" as a key/frequent example and not even touch on women's changing labor force participation until hundreds of pages in? YIKES. Overall, the book fails to pay enough attention to the way the nature of work has contributed to these changes. Is all this disintegration truly revealed preferences, or just evidence of a life logically lived under Late Capitalism™?

I know it's a seminal text, but I honestly recommend reading the intro and then grabbing one of the many more recent (and more readable) books on the topic. I do *not* recommend force-feeding yourself all 500 pages just so you can be a member of the textual Clean Plate Club -- there is no prize.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
546 reviews147 followers
November 6, 2016
Perhaps ironically, I read much of this book on a flight in an effort to avoid conversation with my neighbors.

It is formulaic in that way nonfiction tends to be ("First we will examine X, then we will look at Y, and in my final chapter I will show that Z") but Putnam does show flashes of personality and charm throughout. The argument is well-supported with evidence, and it's not a Chicken Little "the sky is falling" piece. It's more like a judicious exploration of the benefits of community that we largely aren't tapping into as in days past.

3 stars out of 5.
Profile Image for Laura Braden.
28 reviews
July 27, 2022
Everything people claimed, a classic. Quotes I am still thinking about:

“Membership [such as writing a check] is emblematic of affiliation based on symbolic affiliation rather than on personal networks. As sociologist Deborah Minkoff correctly observes in the absence of the opportunity or resources to establish face-to-face interactions, such symbolic affiliations maybe the only available mobilizing structure that can link isolated individuals. However, we should not mistake symbolic ties for personal ones. Neither of these approaches—what political consultants sometimes label the ”ground war” strategy and the “air war” strategy—is politically or morally superior. Rather, they are adapted to different resource endowments. The pro-life ground war (like the civil rights ground war before it) is adapted for a “social capital rich” environment with dense pre-existing social networks of reciprocity, while the pro-choice air war is adapted to a “social capital poor” environment (LB: compare to Tonnies – Gemeinschaft v Gesellschaft). In the latter case, the existence of a well-developed national social movement organization using “air war” techniques is a sign not of the presence of grassroots engagement, but of its absence” (154).

“…the risk that emphasizing community exacerbates division and exclusion. Since social capital is inevitably easier to foster within homogenous communities’ emphasis on its creation may inadvertently shift the balance in society away from bridging social capital and toward bonding social capital” (Chap 23).
Profile Image for Erika RS.
717 reviews195 followers
May 13, 2013
Social capital is the grease that keeps society moving, but over the past 30 years it has decreased. Bowling Alone is the influential book that gathered the data behind this trend and put social capital on the radar of the nation.

Social networks give rise to generalized reciprocity and trust. This is social capital. Reciprocity and trust are most useful when applied generally and not just those who have helped you in the past. Social capital allows society operate smoothly. People rely on social connections for friendships, romantic relationships, job referrals, and community and political organization. Social capital is correlated with individual happiness and with community goods such as lower crime rates.

For all the good that it causes, social capital is, like most tools, not unambiguously good. Gangs and the KKK are held together by social capital just as the PTA and Habitat volunteers are. Being gay in a close knit conservative Christian community can ruin lives. The rarely realized ideal is a society with large amounts of social capital and a large tolerance for difference, but the tensions between these tendencies are hard to reconcile.

Bowling Alone analyzes empirical data to show that social capital had been declining for 30 years (the book is copyright 2000, data from earlier). Putnam considers political participation, civic participation, religious participation, workplace connections, altruism, volunteering, and philanthropy, and perceptions of reciprocity, honesty, and trust. All measures have shown declines, from mild to dramatic. Some new trends seem to defy the decline (e.g., internet communities), but Putnam makes a compelling case that social capital is generally declining.

Consider volunteering as an example. In the US, we volunteer about twice as much as in other developed nations. Volunteering may be formal (through an organization such as United Way) or informal (house sitting for a neighbor). Over half of Americans volunteer when informal volunteering is counted. Volunteering is correlated with higher levels of philanthropic giving.

Education predicts volunteer activity; college graduates are twice as likely to volunteer. Parents volunteer the most because of their involvement with activities related to their children (e.g., school, sports teams). Community size, wealth, and family status are other predictors of volunteer activity. Americans who entertain at home are also more likely to volunteer than those who do not.

Community involvement is the most important predictor of volunteer activity. Data from 1996 shows that 73% of members of secular organizations and 55% of members of religious organizations volunteer. Only 19% of individuals not involved in organizations volunteer. Members of religious organizations tend to volunteer mostly for their church. Organizations provide volunteer opportunities for their members and act as recruitment pools.

Over the past 30 years, volunteer activity has not dropped across the board. Formal volunteering has decreased, but informal volunteering is more common. More people outside of organizations are volunteering, but they do not form long term relationships. There is a troubling generational decline with respect to volunteer activity. The "long civic generation", the generation before the Boomers, has volunteered more at every stage of life than the Boomers and Generation X is worse (although there have been indications that the Millenials may be reversing this slightly).

What is behind the declines in volunteering and other types of participation? Given the difficulty of analyzing social trends, Putnam's explanations are guesses. Up to 10% of the decline in these measures can be attributed to time and money pressures on families, up to another 10% can be explained by suburban sprawl and long commutes, and another 25% can be explained by electronic media, especially television. By far, the largest contributor generational succession. The Boomers and Generation X replace the long civic generation in numbers, but their percentage participation is comparatively abysmal. This may explain up to half of the decline in participation. Why this is occurring is an open question.

Overall, Bowling Alone was a fascinating and informative book. The quantitative information makes it a valid and credible resource. The publication of Bowling Alone prompted debate over the conclusions Putnam drew, but makes it clear that there are trends to consider, and whether they are considered good, bad, or neutral, they are worth examining.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,555 reviews93 followers
February 27, 2017

Every so often I read a book that strikes my brain as lightening, forever altering my thinking and earning a permanent place both on my bedside bookcase and on the tip of my tongue, for I will be thinking, talking, and writing about it from that point on. Bowling Alone is such a book. In it, Robert Putnam makes the case that America has experienced over a half-century of social decline -- decline that is universal, across all demographics and throughout the nation. He uses a concept called social capital, a representation of the strength of social ties between individuals and their networks; the more social capital a society has, the more cohesive it is and the better it functions as a human community in matters of health, safety, and problem solving.

He first charts a steady decline in social capital by using falling rates in civic organizations (like the Rotary Club), locally-organized political activity, religious participation, communal leisure activities, and other markers. Putnam then attempts to ascertain the causes of this steep decline, which seems inexplicable given that the baby boomer generation has reached the age where civic participation is at its greatest. He finds a variety of society-wide forces (increasing job and security pressure; suburbanization; the rise of television), but also notes a major generational influence. The most active civic generation in American history is dying off, but much of their strength comes (Putnam believes) from the unifying force of WWII. That war called upon the resources of the entire nation -- women in the workforce and children gathering scrap metal were just as important as the soldiers in the field. People didn't simply work together; they believed they were working together, and for a common goal. Putnam believes that this extended period of national solidarity cast a shadow over that generation's lives -- but the baby boomers and generation-Xers have had no such struggle. No one would think of the Vietnam War as bringing people together; indeed, it must stand out as one of the most divisive wars in American history.

In making his argument, Putnam is both exhaustive and conservative -- anticipating objections to his conclusions and answering them as a matter of course. He's also not quick to overestimate the influence of any one factor, when sometimes I thought such emphasis might be appropriate. Putnam then asks the question, "So what?" and examines the ways in which social capital is a boon to society and then the consequences of losing it. He then ends by offering several goals for American society to work forward to as a way of strengthening itself. My interest in this book stems from my interest in the 'human habitat' in general, and community is an essential part of that.

Bowling Alone is imminently worthy of consideration -- not just for the ideas it contains, but for the thorough manner that Putnam presents them. A small caveat; the book may be marginally dated given the rise of social networking sites. While Putnam does address online communities, facebook and similar creatures are altogether different from usenet groups and static websites -- and although they're scarcely a replacement for what we've lost, certainly they're a factor that would need to be considered if this book were published today. For my own part, I am resolutely committed to doing my part to live my life in connection with other people.
Profile Image for Brice Karickhoff.
513 reviews32 followers
December 28, 2020
Such an important book. This whole "how to create a healthy community" kick is really turning into more than a kick for me. I'm getting pretty obsessed with the idea of preserving communities like the one I grew up in while still progressing in the ways we ought to progress as a society.

This book has two major cons: it is a little outdated and it is enormous and dense. As a result, sometimes I'd be trucking through a chapter and really just be ready for said chapter to be over. In fact, that happened with most chapters. That being said, I still gotta give it five stars simply because it was such a influential work. The number of times I've seen other authors cite this book lends it a lot of credibility, and I think that anyone who wants to do a serious survey of the literature on civil society would really be doing themselves a disservice if they missed this one.

Unlike every other five star review I've given, I'd suggest this book to almost nobody. But I would suggest that everyone familiarize themself with its ideas. Go listen to a Putnam lecture on YouTube or something
Profile Image for stephanie.
1,103 reviews381 followers
July 7, 2007
read for my social democracy seminar.

it seems really logical now, but when the book was written in 1995, and it was really, really revolutionary. his main thesis is that americans are not volunteering in the same ways in before - we are not joining community organizations anymore. young people are still volunteering, but mostly individually. (his title comes from the fact that people don't join bowling leagues anymore.)

i would recommend reading the first half, skimming the statistics, and reading the conclusion. it's genius for what it is, and i wish more people would read it. it was so ground-breaking.
Profile Image for Cav.
660 reviews90 followers
May 4, 2023
"...I began to wonder if some of the challenges America was facing as we approached the end of the twentieth century might have their roots in a shrinking stock of social capital."

Bowling Alone was an interesting look at the changing social landscape, but its overall presentation left a lot to be desired for me...

Author Robert David Putnam is an American political scientist specializing in comparative politics. He is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Robert D. Putnam:

Bowling Alone is a book that comes up over and over again in the reading I do on social psychology, so I decided to finally get to reading it for myself. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the writing here as much as I'd hoped to. The overall tone of the book reads more like a long-form encyclopedia article, than it does a traditional nonfiction book that tells a story.

Sadly, I found most of the writing here to be dry and arduous. Putnam covers the material here in an apersonal, matter-of-fact, flat manner. There are many charts, graphs, and other data sets included here.
The updated edition mentions that the hypothesis and trends laid out in the previous edition have largely continued. That is; there has been a steady but inexorable decline in all overall social participation in modern Western societies.

Putman mentions that he was not sure how his book would be received, and that its success as well as inclusion in the reading material of many university courses surprised him. He writes:
"Bowling Alone was fortuitously timed to resonate far beyond academia. Before I had anything of substance to say on the matter, many Americans had already noticed that they were less civically engaged than their parents had been. So when a Harvard professor came along with a tome full of charts and graphs that said, in effect, “It’s not just you, it’s all of us,” it hit a nerve. Bowling Alone had unwittingly spoken to the Zeitgeist of an anxious nation slowly waking up to its own fraying social fabric."

Early on, Putnam introduces and then defines the concept of "social capital."
"In recent years social scientists have framed concerns about the changing character of American society in terms of the concept of “social capital.” By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital—tools and training that enhance individual productivity—the core idea of social capital theory is that social networks have value. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so too social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups.
Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a dense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.
The term social capital itself turns out to have been independently invented at least six times over the twentieth century, each time to call attention to the ways in which our lives are made more productive by social ties. The first known use of the concept was not by some cloistered theoretician, but by a practical reformer of the Progressive Era—L. J. Hanifan, state supervisor of rural schools in West Virginia. Writing in 1916 to urge the importance of community involvement for successful schools, Hanifan invoked the idea of “social capital” to explain why. For Hanifan, social capital referred to those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit…. The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself….
If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the coöperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors..."

The book's formatting is broken into well-defined chapters, that talk about socialization across these different realms:
• Political Participation
• Civic Participation
• Religious Participation
• Connections in the Workplace
• Informal Social Connections
• Altruism, Volunteering, and Philanthropy
• Reciprocity, Honesty, and Trust
• Against the Tide? Small Groups, Social Movements, and the Net
• Pressures of Time and Money
• Mobility and Sprawl
• Technology and Mass Media
• From Generation to Generation


Unfortunately, as previously mentioned at the start of this review, the writing here fell flat for me. Although there are some interesting academic data presented here, the overall presentation of this one is just so slow and tedious... And before anyone yells at me, I will say that my reviews are always based on my personal enjoyment of a book and its overall presentation, and not how much data or graphs it contains.
Sadly, that will see this one fairly heavily penalized.
2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Mary.
133 reviews43 followers
October 31, 2012
I remember this as being a bit unrealistic in the respect that many changes in mobility, family definition, community cohesion are changing into permanent definitions that must be worked within rather than change.
Profile Image for James Carter.
610 reviews7 followers
August 7, 2016
Bowling Alone is a laborious tome written by Robert Putnam about America's social capital. There are a lot of statements to back his theses as to why Americans are, metaphorically speaking, bowling alone, which I absolutely agree with. It's just that I wasn't consciously aware of the reasons why but subconsciously thinking they might be the reasons why. Robert Putnam makes everything crystally clear to me, and I applaud him for that.

I see it everywhere as a village resident, as a college student, as a voter, as a schoolteacher, as a television viewer, as an Internet user, as a newspaper reader, etc.: the decline of participation and support among the populace. Recently, I remarked during the 4th of July weekend that there used to be a lot of parties in my neighborhood during the 90's and now there is none. I've been thinking for a long time about what has happened because the adults used to get involved after they got home from work and the kids used to play a lot on the streets.

I knew the answers before I read Section III which is "Why?" People are too busy with work. They come home exhausted from work. And they need a break from other people. Everybody has an invisible container within themselves that is filled with energy. The more energy is used up, the more tired the person is. Eventually, by the time the container is used up, he is really going above and beyond his limits to get things done; hence, he is simply overworked. That's why they go home, lie down, turn the TV on or surf the Internet, and tune out to recover himself physically, mentally, and emotionally before they do it all over again the next day.

As for joining clubs and organizations, it's not as simple as Putnam thinks. A lot of times, when people do, they are made to feel like outsiders. When the feeling sinks in after a bit while, they drop out and never try again in the future. It happens a lot, especially in schools, workplaces, and churches. That's why people complain a lot about "cliques" and "politics" that cause them to quit or stop coming back. Many of them are rife with corruption and misappropriation of funds. Ditto for the so-called charities.

As often as Putnam talks about the government , I am most surprised that he failed to analyze in detail the assassination of JFK, Watergate, the counterculture movement of the 60's, and the Vietnam War. They collectively were the biggest single reason for the downfall of America's trust in politics. You can look at all of the graphics and statistics, and it's not hard to understand that the decline of participation started at the end of the 60's. It has everything to do with corruption. Churches are not excluded from it.

Simply put, citizens have been lied to, fooled, and scammed by the government that they have completely lost trust in it. That's why politicians of today do not, and have never, represented the citizens; their positions have been bought and paid for by special interest groups, corporations, and elites so that the laws are passed in the favor of them. They, not the people, are the problem and have caused the deep divide between the haves and the have-nots that still exists in America today.

At the same time, the media (such as CNN, FoxNews, etc.) have done an incredible job in furthering the divide because all they do are fan the flames, play the blame game, and put the words into people's mouths. I haven't seen news that is reported the way how news should be reported because opinions, along with analyses by various so-called experts, keep getting in the way.

It would be unfair to say Bowling Alone is outdated since it was written in 2000 because the Internet changed everything; I still consider it the biggest catalyst in terms of opening a can of worms when it comes to problems in America. So, that's why it would be interesting to read it again for the update of statistics to see how much the national picture has changed. Despite the positive aspects, the Internet has made the country more isolated than ever because it has become a nation of virtual communities. I see it plainly and clearly when I go out of the house and there are virtually no kids playing outside on the street.

Although my favorite chapter is Chapter 21 on Democracy, probably the biggest letdown is Section V: What Is To Be Done? which underscores the problems of the book. It's just too long, too repetitive, and too academic. Obviously, things were good after the end of WWII as everybody was united because they worked together for a common cause. It was also one of the longest national crises in America's history along with Civil War. The longer a national crisis goes, the longer the lingering effects of solidarity are felt. That's why the patriotism of 9/11 didn't last as long because the event only lasted for a day.

I honestly don't have a positive outlook of America and think that the problems have gone too far to be helped. I expect a point in the future that the people will get angry about what has been happening to themselves that they will start rioting to demand a change. The French once did it, and they changed the world even though it came at a huge price. Hence, I predict that in 200 to 300 years from now The United States of America will fall the way like the Roman Empire did because of decay and lack of investment in education, infrastructure, employment opportunities, and community relations. Today, everywhere I go to, I just see high-tech security, distrust, apathy, loss of some basic rights including privacy, and aggression. George Orwell wasn't too far off in his prediction when he wrote 1984.

All in all, Bowling Alone is an excellent study of the deteriorating social capital in America.
Profile Image for Sammi Schachter.
14 reviews
December 26, 2021
I learned so so much from this book. It totally changed how I view social networks and all the factors that influence our social systems. Really thought out and informative. So many statistics though that my mind went blank for long periods reading this. Definitely not a fun or quick read. Perhaps too big brain for me, but I’m glad I read this:,)
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book133 followers
February 4, 2021
Probably the best sociology book I've ever read; tackling essential questions of American society and politics. WHile it is dense, Putnam advances a fascinating argument that retains its relevance 20 years later.

Putnam's argument is that social capital (SC) has declined across the board in US society, among almost every race, age group, and area, and that this is bad for citizenship, health, education, democracy, and overall well-being. SC is the idea that the relationships we for through community groups, church, local/state politics, charity work, sports, and other forms of mostly local involvement have a value, just like physical or financial capital. They create trust in society, lowering the cost of economic transactions and the need for 3rd party litigation or policing. They provide help when we are down without a clear expectation of payment, a concept known as generalized reciprocity. SC enhances schooling and child-raising, as communities are more engaged with what kids are learning and doing. When someone else's parent helps you get a summer job, stops you from doing something stupid, or discusses going to law school with you, that's SC. People with high SC form lots of clubs and groups, attend lots of meetings, speak out and write letters to the editor, go to church services or basketball games or the Rotary, and volunteer for charity work or local politics. SC positively affects all kinds of outcomes, from political participation to educational results to health to the general sense that the average person is trustworthy.

The concept of SC made a lot of sense to me based on where I have lived in my life. Living and teaching in a small town in rural Western Massachusetts, I noticed the benefits and positive feelings of a high-SC community (also happened to be a fairly affluent community). Parents and colleagues invited my wife and I over for dinner often. There was only one pub open all the time, so when you went you always saw someone you knew. Parents volunteered obsessively, went to PT meetings even when their kids were doing fine in school, packed the stands at sports games, and actively engaged in politics and educational issues. Given the small size of the school, kids were consummate joiners and participators. As the teacher for the sophomore class (history), I taught every kid, which means if I had stayed long enough I would know basically every family in the town. The other places I have lived range from small cities like CHapel Hill to big cities like Chicago, and even though I've enjoyed those places as well, there isn't as much of a sense of dense social/communal relationships there. Of course, Putnam makes clear that urban neighborhoods can have just as much SC as anywhere else, although these places tend to have overlapping communities in the same spaces.

Putnam shows in exhaustive detail how SC has declined since the 50s in basically every place and demographic in the country. He identifies several culprits, none of which fit cleanly into any political narrative. First and foremost is generational change. Sparked by the massive national effort of WWII and the postwar boom, the "Greatest Generation" formed and joined huge numbers of organizations, building massive social capital. As they were replaced by the boomers and Gen X, participation and SC started to decline. This is not a MAGA argument, as Putnam makes clear that we can't recreate the conditions (a world war and unprecedented, probably once-in-history economic boom) that sustained this spike in civic-mindedness (of course, Putnam also talks about the PRogressive Era as the largest spike in social capital in US history, as Americans sought ways to rebuild community in the face of urbanization, industrialization, and mass immigration.

ANother culprit is suburban sprawl, especially the commute and the "triangulation" of life. My family, for instance, was quite civically engaged when I was growing up, but suburban life didn't help. My dad commuted upwards of an hour to Boston or Providence, my mom also had a long commute, and much of our shopping took place in nearby towns. Thus, we weren't all that looped into community life in Weymouth (we also went to private Catholic schools in a different town). SUburban life, especially the time that is sucked into commuting, is in a sense geared toward privacy rather than community, and the broad movement toward suburbia as the dominant AMerican habitation has made community harder to sustain.

Another big contributor is TV (this book was published in 2000, so we can only imagine the Internet has worsened this problem). TV from the 50's to the 90s came to suck up an inordinate amount of people's time and attention, leaving them with little time or mental space for political participation. This was honestly the most shocking part of the book: the sheer volume of TV watching that Americans did (and still do) and how it is associated with almost every negative trait you can think of: health, mental health, voting, joining, socializing, etc etc. This is a simple explanation but the data behind it are powerful.

For those who say that Putnam overlooked or downplayed the exclusionary effects/potential of social capital and community, I reply "What?" He has a whole chapter on the dark side of social capital, and the concept of bonding capital is all about how social capital often reinforces group identity at the expense of the outsider. He also discusses how the golden age of social capital was discriminatory, but the larger point of the book is that SC and communal participation have declined in every demographic, making it a problem that all Americans should care about.

This book is really hard to peg politically, and it suggests areas of common ground we can build on. Community and active citizenship are good for everyone and for society, but we need both bonding and bridging SC (which creates bonds across lines and btw communities) to get the good side of social capital and not the negative side. Liberals will like the proposals for more flexible work hours, campaign finance reform that gives more power to ordinary people, and the expansion of education budgets.. Conservatives will like Putnam's emphasis on local control, community, and custom (although those don't HAVE to be solely conservative values, conservatives place more value on those things). Both sides can agree that community, engagement, and fraternity/sorority are essential pieces of human happiness, which gives us a chance to shift the conversation to how to restore this aspect of society.

This book is a great read for trying to understand how Americans became polarized and angry. We are cut off from each other, siloed into ever-more homogenous and often virtual communities that generally reinforce our views, engaging more and more in individualized entertainment, and increasingly watching politics rather than participating it. It isn't surprising that we feel the DC is distant and corrupt, that people on the other side are losing their minds (although that may be true for many), and that we are helpless to do anything. Putnam doesn't have a solution, but he lays the problem out so clearly and convincingly that we can point ourselves in the right direction.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,139 reviews1,028 followers
Want to read
July 29, 2018
The trend continues, according to recent research. See the Pacific Standard article, Americans Are Staying as Far Away From Each Other as Possible .

That article also links to Putnam's original 1995 essay, the genesis of this book, Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital in the Journal of Democracy.

See also the collection of responses within Social Capital: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on Civil Society by David A. Schultz [personal note: available at SFSU; HN65.S567 2002]
Profile Image for Hank Stuever.
Author 3 books2,016 followers
August 22, 2013
Not the most exciting read ever, but it got people thinking. (And citing. I can't think of a more oft-referenced book about American life in this early part of the 21st century, except, of course, Malcolm Gladwell's stuff.) Also? I'm pretty sure it didn't move a stone, in terms of social awakening. If we were "bowling alone" in 2000 before Facebook, well, how "alone" are we now?
Profile Image for Margot.
419 reviews26 followers
November 28, 2010
I found this book fascinating, and couldn't stop talking about it while I was reading it and for several months afterward. While I found the approach to "social capital" somewhat akin to commoditizing friendships and civic interaction, I found so much richness in Putnam's thoughtful analysis of multiple diverse data sources, with plenty of charts and graphs to enjoy!

Putnam's premise is that our stores of social capital in the U.S. have been making a drastic plummeting curve (in visual terms) since the 60s. As I understand it, by social capital he is referring to the social connections that make a cohesive community, or on a larger scale, a nation. These can include informal measures such as playing cards, bowling leagues or having friends over for dinner, or formal measures such as PTA enrollment, church attendance, and voting. He presents chapters and chapters of evidence to support his observation, and attempts to explore a few possible explanations for this phenomenon. I appreciate that he doesn't pretend to have the answer, and doesn't present one possibility as the culprit. I also appreciate that he takes a look at the "dark side" of social capital--homogeneity and exclusivity. This book was published in 200, so I would love to read an updated look at this topic.

Here are a few examples from the book:
"During the fist two-thirds of the century Americans took a more and more active role in the social and political life of their communities--in churches and union halls, in bowling alleys and clubrooms, around committee tables and card tables and dinner tables. Year by year we gave more generously to charity, we pitched in more often on community projects, and (insofar as we can still find reliable evidence) we behaved in an increasingly trustworthy way toward one another. Then, mysteriously and more or less simultaneously, we began to do all those things less often.
We are still more civically engaged than citizens in many other countries, but compared with our own recent past, we are less connected. We remain interested and critical spectators of the public scene. We kibitz, but we don't play, We maintain a facade of formal affiliation, but we rarely show up. We have invented new ways of expressing our demands that demand less of us. We are less likely to turn out for collective deliberation--whether in the voting booth or the meeting hall--and when we do, we find that discouragingly few of our friends and neighbors have shown up. We are less generous with our money and (with the important exception of senior citizens) with our time, and we are less likely to give strangers the benefit of the doubt. They, of course, return the favor."(183)

"Compared with the citizens of most other countries, Americans have always lived a nomadic existence. Nearly one in five of us move each year and, having done so, are likely to pick up and move again. More than two in five of us expect to move in the next five years. As a result, compared with other peoples, Americans have become accustomed to pitching camp quickly and making friends easily. From our frontier and immigrant past we have learned to plunge into new community institutions when we move.
Nevertheless, for people as for plants, frequent repotting disrupts root systems."(204)

"The car and the commute...are demonstrably bad for community life. In round numbers the evidence suggests that each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent...Strikingly, increased commuting time among the residents of a community lowers average levels of civic involvement even among noncommuters...In other words, this appears to be a classic "synergistic effect," in which the consequences of individual actions spill beyond the individuals in question. In the language of economists, commuting has negative externalities."(213)

"Electronic technology allows us to consume this hand-tailored entertainment in private, even utterly alone...As the poet T.S. Eliot observed early in the television age, "It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome." The artifice of canned laughter reflected both the enduring fact that mirth is enhanced by companionship and the novel fact that companionship could now be simulated electronically."(217)

"Child psychologists speak of a fairly primitive stage of social development called "parallel play"--two kids in a sandbox, each playing with a toy but not really interacting with each other. In healthy development children outgrow parallel play. But the public spectacles of television leave us at that arrested stage of development, rarely moving beyond parallel attentiveness to the same external stimulus."(244)

"With evidence from a single point in time, we cannot distinguish between life cycle and generational effects, but if we follow a given cohort over the years, we can more readily distinguish the two. And the two effects have dramatically different social consequences. Life cycle effects mean that individuals change, but society as a whole does not. Generational effects mean that society changes, even though individuals do not.
So before we can tell whether the ubiquitous age-related differences in civic engagement are truly generational, and thus producing social change, we need to determine whether these differences are attributable to the normal life cycle. With comparable evidence across several decades, we can follow each cohort as its members move through various stages of life. If successive cohorts generally retrace the same ups and downs as they age, we can be reasonably sure that we are observing a life cycle pattern. If not, it is more likely that age-related differences are generational in origin."(248)

"Social scientists have long been concerned about "dilemmas" of collective action. Such dilemmas are ubiquitous, and their dynamics are straightforward. People often might all be better off if they cooperate, with each doing her share. But each individual benefits more by shirking her responsibility, hoping that others will do the work for her. Moreover, even if she is wrong and the others shirk, too, she is still better off than if she had been the only sucker. Obviously if every individual thinks that the others will do the work, nobody will end up taking part, and all will be left worse off than if all had contributed."(288)

"It turns out that in states where citizens view other people as basically honest, tax compliance is higher than in low-social-capital states...Similarly, surveys have found that individual taxpayers who believe that others are dishonest or are distrustful of government are more likely themselves to cheat. My willingness to pay my share depends crucially on my perception that others are doing the same. In effect, in a community rich in social capital, government is 'we,' not 'they.'"(347)
Profile Image for Ben Kandov.
133 reviews4 followers
July 11, 2021
The most concise summary of this book might simply be its subtitle. For me, the greatest service Putnam provided by writing it is his "naming" of the issue of declining social capital, by meticulously documenting other trends that it correlates with: Mental, physical, and economic health; crime; trust in our peers as well as in our government; general malaise and anger. Maybe many of us don't know why we are so unhappy and cynical as a generation, or why we don't act the way ideal citizens probably should; the dry statistical measures in this tome describe why, as well as offer solutions (join and start more voluntary organizations, preferably bridging over bonding ones, when possible - everything else will arise from that).

In addition, the chapter on television in the second "Why?" section was particularly profound and prescient. The effects habitual television watching used to cause - para-social relationships that drain our energy allotment for socialization; further curtailed attention spans as programs became more frenetically entertaining - have been reinforced, as I see it, by certain new kinds of social media entertainment. The Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok "Doom Scrolls": low barrier, passive entertainment, that makes us feel more connected and important, while slowly expunging a natural desire to genuinely be so.
March 8, 2021
I would give this 3.5 stars if possible. It’s a landmark book for a reason and incredibly resonant with the advent of social media and extrapolations one can draw from decreased civic activity and social interaction to social media isolation and increasing ostracism and mistrust between people. One key takeaway that it’s much harder to vilify people you interact with regularly, particularly in a non-political environment like a bowling league, PTA, chess club, etc. remains strong. He also makes a crucial distinction between older community based organizations and many modern day associations that are largely online and consist of not much beyond paying dues and reading a newsletter, rarely are in person meetings involved.

The key weakness to the book is its dry, academic presentation and overabundance of examples. He continually makes a point and follows it up with seven almost identical case studies. I admittedly started skimming once I read 1-2 examples and moved to the next chapter. I think this book could easily be a few hundred pages shorter with a long appendix for those interested, but well worth the read (skim?) if only to understand some key trends. It’s a particularly fascinating read during COVID in an era of extreme political polarization.
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