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Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  2,882 ratings  ·  423 reviews
An eminent sociologist and bestselling author offers an inspiring blueprint for rebuilding our fractured society.

We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn't seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come tog
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
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Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn't think that I could dislike a book as much as I dislike THIS book, but yes, I really disliked this book. Wonderful ideas and some really interesting points but I do not trust ANY book which talks about race and sociology without talking about white privilege and white supremacy. Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems this man wrote an entire book about community while NOT ONCE naming white supremacy.

This book tries to play the rule of "both sides" and let's all come together and sing kumba
3.5. Overall, the ideas Klinenberg poses and the research he references are interesting and gets one thinking of what we need to do to create a better future society. Social infrastructure is a philosophy I can get behind and the stories he shares from fieldwork (especially more personal vignettes) were insightful. But I will say I wish this was structured differently. After listening to the first chapter, which is exclusively about libraries, I expected (and wanted) the rest of the chapters to ...more
Sep 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed his tribute to libraries; was skeptical of his pro-corporate solutions such as Gates' donations to create smaller schools. Liberal, not radical, and therefore insufficient targeting of capitalism's fundamental flaws. ...more
No rating cause I was skimming a bunch toward the end. I wanted to like this, and it's got such important research in it, but I raised an eyebrow at the beginning when it said something like "this isn't about Trump vs Clinton, or Black Lives Matter vs Blue Lives Matter, but rather..." and I'm like a) it kind of is about those things though? and b) are you really going to treat them as equal? I don't even hate the Trump vs Clinton thing because, fine, it's fair to say we're talking about politics ...more
Stephanie (That's What She Read)
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
I couldn't think of a better book to read in January. I really feel inspired to become more involved in my community. This book is about the importance of social infastructure and how it can significantly improve the lives of those in communities and bring down crime rates. I loved the chapters about libraries. I wish Parks and Rec was still on because I can't even imagine how much Leslie Knope would've loved this. If I had one criticism of the book, it was that I wish it the chapters stuck more ...more
Adrian Hon
Jan 19, 2019 rated it liked it
An engaging, readable argument for why we should build more “social infrastructure” like libraries, community gardens, parks, sports facilities, etc – but with a curiously meandering structure that flits between ideas and subjects.

Random thoughts:

- Klinenberg is a good writer but he is overly fond of personal anecdotes and stories. These are helpful for introducing laypeople but they detracted from the strength of his argument.

- Too often, we hear about how he was visiting this or that other ci
Daniel Beck
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Look, if you're on Goodreads, you probably already know that public libraries are important institutions. But this book provides some good reminders of why that is. ...more
Gives perspective and case studies regarding social infrastructure. Especially relevant to public libraries and other civic institutions looking for ways to be more welcoming and responsive to their community. Very timely and useful.

I took a star off because I found the text somewhat rambling and roundabout. I thought it would be much more useful to divide chapters by type of institution, so those reading for institutional purposes could easily find what they're looking for. I did see an indicat
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such an interesting book that touches on my favourite aspect of social infrastructure: libraries. This book is so timely given the current political we want higher walls or more social cohesion?
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"Libraries stand for and exemplify something that needs defending: the public institutions that -- even in an age of atomization and inequality -- serve as bedrocks of civil society. Libraries are the kinds of places where ordinary people with different backgrounds, passions, and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private, and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line."

This book i
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sociologist Eric Klinenberg makes a persuasive argument for the strengthening of America's "social infrastructure" - the places where people gather to share experiences across social divides and strengthen the bonds that help us in divisive times. It is a timely examination of what qualifies as "community" in the age of social media and a useful tool that public officials should use for cultural and social planning. Recommended. ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5. A lot of great theories and causal links but not a lot of concrete takeaways. Also, a little long in the tooth and repetitive as the end drew near.
Kath ❅
Like many readers, I'm obsessed with libraries. They are one of my favorite to work and study and at this point in my life, having had to move several times, I'd much rather just get books at the library rather than own them. This book shows how libraries and other public spaces can be important for things beyond their described purpose. Good social infrastructure can be crucial for reducing crime and bring together people who normally wouldn't interact. I have person experience with this. I go ...more
Jud Barry
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Klinenberg imparts an impassioned and inspiring message about the need to shore up American society with places that will build community by bringing people together. The book meanders somewhat, though, and always seems to return to what becomes almost a refrain: "like, for example, libraries."

He means, of course, public libraries: no small quibble. None of his library examples are academic or special libraries, where so much funding is private or nonprofit. This in no way denigrates the work of
Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University, examines how our social structures--from the library to schools to community gardens--can help mitigate problems and challenges of our divided civic life. He posits that neighborhoods, regardless of economic or over-all social standing, which have strong social infrastructure do better at taking care of one another when crises strike and also do better at resisting crime and other negative social impacts.

This was an interesting thesis,
Steven Weiner
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Eric Klinenberg's latest book is an excellent examination of how our political perspectives, resilience to crises, and overall quality of life are affected by social infrastructure--the physical spaces and material elements that help us connect with each other. It was a bit painful to read during a time in which our biological need for distancing has necessarily been prioritized over our social need to gather, but in this way it is also particularly timely. Over the past fifty years, American so ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book was drier than I thought it would be so despite my great interest and agreement with the topic, it took me a while to finish this one. I am glad I did because I agree with Klinenberg that libraries are magical places and the lack of public spaces where people can wander is hurting communities. I like the examples he gives of public spaces that have fostered community building and the opposite too (suburban school pickups for example). On this topic, I would also recommend Zadie Smith's ...more
Sarah C.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really really enjoyed this book and learned more about what is at stake when public institutions that bolster community aren’t visited, aren’t financially supported, or are generally overlooked. The strongest example woven throughout is the public library, though Klinenberg makes good cases for many other scenarios where people find friendship and connection in unexpected (though intentionally designed) places. This book lacks a significant conversation on race, which is woven throughout the b ...more
Scott Rhee
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I went off Facebook for a variety of reasons, but what cemented my decision to severely limit my use of that particular social media platform was a post about my love of libraries and, specifically, my local library, which, at the time, was the main topic of discussion in town as city council was deciding where and when to build a new state-of-the-art library.

I was not against the new library at all. In fact, I was strongly in support of it. As much as I loved the little building where I spent a
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics-issues
Personally I don’t think “Libraries and other places you actually interact with your community are good” should be that hard of a concept to grasp, but apparently it is and Klinenberg does a good job making the case for investing in them far more than we currently are. I also appreciated the late chapter laying out a vision for incorporating social infrastructure into climate adaptation projects rather than treating them solely as a civil engineering challenge.
Barbara Vecchione
Jan 29, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve started reading the book at a fast pace, eager to learn about all the case studies presented by the author to value his theories on how social infrastructure engenders social connections.

However, the continuous flow of information makes it hard for the reader to fully engage with the multitude of topics discussed.

I would still recommend the book to someone that wants to further his/her knowledge on social infrastructure and the importance of building resilient communities.
Megan Rosol
An excellent book about the benefits of healthy social infrastructure (including public libraries). A terrible cover.
Jul 05, 2019 added it
Shelves: try-again-later
I just read the chapter on public libraries, and will get back to it later. Because there were holds on it at the public library!
Jan 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
This exploration of social infrastructure illustrates how necessary are places that allow people to share common spaces and build connections with each other and their community that will help societies survive. Klinenberg illustrates how communities with this kind of shared infrastructure reduce crime and lead residents to work together to protect one another and to care for each other. This is an important contribution to civility and developing relationships with our neighbors and community r ...more
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Timely to read, as my city council has just axed the budget (due to pandemic). The first fat they trimmed? Social infrastructure: Parks, recreation services, sports leagues, senior center, library services, festivals, cinema and concerts. The best bang for their buck they’ll ever get, and they’re not investing.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I decided to read the book because it was Carla Hayden's #1 book for 2018. Now I know why. Public libraries are the star of this book which is about social infrastructure and the importance of communities. ...more
Fatimah Jagana
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The book I will be giving a review about is called: Palaces For The People. How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, And The Decline Of Civic Life, by author Eric Klinenberg. By reading the title, it is safe to assume that this book will talk about challenges encountered in the society we live in, the effects, and how social infrastructures can help improve the quality of life. This is a non-fiction title and I want to say it is intended for all audiences, especially th ...more
Vanessa Ames
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A really great read about social infrastructure and healthy communities. My interest in this particular title came from an essay by the author and I enjoyed reading more about his sociological observances about many different civic entities.
Jul 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I agree with the fundamental premise of this book and the importance of social infrastructure like libraries, public pools, gardens, athletic fields, youth centers to building community. However, for a book that talks about inequality in its very title, the white, male author fails to adequately address race, which is barely even mentioned, let alone the pernicious impacts of white supremacy, or poverty (he positions his inability to buy hardcover books as poverty).

I wanted a lot more actual re
Jun 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A conceptually interesting book that discusses the importance of social infrastructure (libraries, religious organizations, and other physical spaces that foster social connection and bridges between people who are vastly different). It has an inspiring core message that all community members, regardless of race, sex, background, etc., must come together to build lasting social infrastructure, but in doing so, fundamentally dodges a lot of essential discussion about reckoning with the systemic r ...more
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Eric Klinenberg is Professor of Sociology; Public Policy; and Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University. He is the author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (The Penguin Press, 2012), Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media (Metropolitan Books, 2007), and Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chica ...more

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15 likes · 2 comments
“There's a term you don't hear these days, one you used to hear all the time when the Carnegie branches opened: Palaces for the People. The library really is a palace. It bestows nobility on people who otherwise couldn't afford a shred of it. People need to have nobility and dignity in their lives. And you know, they need other people to recognize it in them too.” 13 likes
“What counts as social infrastructure? I define it capaciously. Public institutions such as libraries, schools, playgrounds, parks, athletic fields, and swimming pools are vital parts of the social infrastructure. So too are sidewalks, courtyards, community gardens, and other green spaces that invite people into the public realm. Community organizations, including churches and civic associations, act as social infrastructures when they have an established physical space where people can assemble, as do regularly scheduled markets for food, furniture, clothing, art, and other consumer goods. Commercial establishments can also be important parts of the social infrastructure, particularly when they operate as what the sociologist Ray Oldenburg called "third spaces," places (like cafes, diners, barbershops, and bookstores) where people are welcome to congregate and linger regardless of what they've purchased.” 7 likes
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