In 1990, Robert D. Putnam wrote first a seemingly simple observation: once we bowled in leagues, usually after work, but now no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolized a significant social change that became the basis of the acclaimed bestseller, published in 2000, Bowling Alone. The Washington Post called Putnam “the de Tocqueville of our generation.” Putnam’s book surveyed Americans’ changing behavior over decades in detail, showing how the country had become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbours and social structures – for instance the PTA, church, clubs, political parties, or bowling leagues. In the revised edition of his classic work, Putnam shows how our shrinking access to the ‘social capital’ that is the reward of communal activity and community sharing still poses a serious threat to our civic and personal health, and how these consequences have a new resonance for our divided country today. He includes critical new material on the pervasive influence of social media and the internet, which has introduced previously unthinkable opportunities for social connection – as well as unprecedented levels of alienation and isolation.
At the time of its publication, Putnam’s then-groundbreaking work showed how social bonds are the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction, and how the loss of social capital is felt in critical ways, acting as a strong predictor of crime rates and other measures of neighborhood quality of life, and affecting our health in other ways. While the ways in which we connect, or become disconnected, have changed over the decades, his central argument remains as powerful and urgent as ever: mending our frayed social capital is key to preserving the very fabric of our society.
Simon & Schuster, 2020 (revised edition)