Review by Choice Review
According to Putnam, people participated to a considerable degree in various public and private groups well into the 1960s, but since then such participation, referred to as "social capital" because of its potential benefits, has declined. The author devotes eight of the book's 24 chapters to an attempt to provide evidence for reduced participation in political organizations, churches, and various social clubs and interest groups. Among the alleged causes for this putative decrease: the demands of work leaving less time for other activities; the frequent movement of many people from one community to another working against the formation of close ties; more time spent watching TV and "surfing the Web," leaving less time for interacting with others. Putman argues that this erosion is worrisome because social capital serves important needs such as resolving conflicts in the community and increasing the physical and mental health of individuals. In the final chapter, Putnam urges the reader to work at reversing the trend he has seen, but his exhortations contain few specific proposals. The book concludes with three appendixes and about 50 pages of notes. The Web site for the book appears on the dust jacket. General readers and above. D. Harper; University of Rochester
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review
Putnam laments the decline in the kind of informal social institutions--bridge clubs, bowling leagues, charity leagues, etc.--that were once the glue for many American communities. In a detailed, well-documented book, he examines how Americans have expended their "social capital," the good will and social intercourse that constitute basic neighborliness, to such an extent that they feel civic malaise despite economic prosperity. As social groups decline, so do civic, religious, and work groups. But Putnam sees trends of both collapse and renewal in civic engagement and seeks to avoid "simple nostalgia." Indeed, he also examines the darker side of social capital, including the compulsion to promote homogeneity. He cites generational differences, demographic changes, technology, and increased mobility as reasons for the decline in social organizations, but he notes trends in technology that spur the reformulating of social groups as well as growth in such mass-membership organizations as the American Association of Retired Persons. Finally, he suggests how the nation can reengage citizens and improve its investment in social capital. --Vanessa Bush
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
"If you don't go to somebody's funeral, they won't come to yours," Yogi Berra once said, neatly articulating the value of social networks. In this alarming and important study, Putnam, a professor of sociology at Harvard, charts the grievous deterioration over the past two generations of the organized ways in which people relate to one another and partake in civil life in the U.S. For example, in 1960, 62.8% of Americans of voting age participated in the presidential election, whereas by 1996, the percentage had slipped to 48.9%. While most Americans still claim a serious "religious commitment," church attendance is down roughly 25%-50% from the 1950s, and the number of Americans who attended public meetings of any kind dropped 40% between 1973 and 1994. Even the once stable norm of community life has shifted: one in five Americans moves once a year, while two in five expect to move in five years. Putnam claims that this has created a U.S. population that is increasingly isolated and less empathetic toward its fellow citizens, that is often angrier and less willing to unite in communities or as a nation. Marshaling a plentiful array of facts, figures, charts and survey results, Putnam delivers his message with verve and clarity. He concludes his analysis with a concise set of potential solutions, such as educational programs, work-based initiatives and funded community-service programs, offering a ray of hope in what he perceives to be a dire situation. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. 3-city tour; 20-city radio satellite tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Putnam (Stanfield Professor of International Peace, Harvard) probes American history to identify, interpret, and weigh the forces influencing the major drop in civic involvement that characterized American society in the last third of the 20th century. Buttressing his arguments with a wide range of resources, references, and statistics from government, academic, and commercial sources, he explores the roles of generational, social, and technological factors as they relate to the dwindling of our nation's social capital. Putnam argues that "[the level of] social connectedness matters to our lives in the most profound way." How to respond to its current nadir? Putnam finds striking parallels between the situation today and the declining levels of social interaction in the late 1800s. He cites the rejuventating waves of change and reform generated during the Progressive Era, which stemmed that earlier decline, and suggests that a comparable burst of social inventiveness and political reform could activate the much-needed rebuilding of civic involvement and social connection in our time. This substantive and stimulating work is highly recommended for academics and a thoughtful general public audience. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/00.]--Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology at Alfred (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A longer and much improved version of Putnam's controversial 1995 Journal of Democracy article of the same name, this is an important work that is likely to be the center of much debate. Books of sociological insight as readable and significant as David Reisman's Lonely Crowd and C. Wright Mills's Power Elite come along seldom. Putnam's work belongs in their company. This is partly because Putnam (Making Democracy Work, not reviewed) avoids the language of academic sociology and writes prose that most readers will find appealing. But, more importantly, Putnam's ideas have a weight and carry implications that will resonate with scholars and laymen alike. Putnam is concerned with "social capital" (i.e., the institutions, practices, behavior, and attitudes that create and sustain human communities). The evidence that he has amassed--from surveys of bowling leagues and book groups to data on religious and civic participation--shows without doubt that American social capital has recently fallen far, and that the bonds connecting Americans to one another have eroded sharply in the last half-century. For all the book's likely impact, however, Putnam is stronger at discovering reality than explaining it. He doesn't tell us why he and other social thinkers believe that being connected is better than going it alone. He also fails to explore the possibility that the causes of social disconnectedness lie as much in changing personal cultural attitudes (the subject of social psychology) as in external practices and institutions (the stuff of sociology). And Putnam's inspiring and brave call for renewed civic inventiveness, while appealing, can be no substitute for solid ideas as to what social policies should be enacted and what individuals might do to recreate social capital. Nevertheless, all those who were previously skeptical of Putnam's claims will now have to confront the overwhelming force of this exhaustive and carefully argued study. A major work of social research. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.