Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Robert D. Putnam

Book cover

I know that this has been an important book in my sister’s life, and now I think it will become an important book in my own. She was about the same age as I am now when she read it, and I wonder if its strong effect on both of us may be related to this time of one’s life–when you’ve completed all the prerequisite requirements, feel pretty stable and independent, and start thinking about what it is that you really want. Reading this book has been the cornerstone of a lot of time spent thinking and talking with Elise about community, our experiences of it, and how we can make it a more important part of our lives. From a more objective perspective I also think this is a pretty enjoyable and well-written book. Putnam avoids the wishy-washiness of pop psychology and sociology by being strongly grounded in academic social science research, so you don’t get the empty aftertaste that I’ve found from writers like Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell. My main criticism is that I found his “what is to be done?” section utterly unconvincing and clearly tacked on as an afterthought (or more likely at the demand of his publisher). As Putnam himself avers, these are problems that don’t admit of simple solutions, so it seems inappropriate to me to try to give a cursory survey of possible solutions in the last ten pages of a 400 page book. I think the book would have been satisfying, and certainly would have provided food for thought about solutions, without it.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars