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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,887 ratings  ·  300 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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
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.
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
Jacob Serfling
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.
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 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.
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
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I was excited when I won this book on Goodreads. I want to thank them and Putnam books to get a pre-publication copy of it. It is an excellent book for activists who what to improve their :communities.
Most of the examples given are from big cities, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Singapore. The surprising entry was from Iceland but nothing like that is possible in the US. Their communal swimming pools reminded me of the baths of ancient Rome and Greece that still are popular in Turkey and
Shawn Thrasher
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
If it seems like the world really sucks right now, Eric Klinenberg knows why: the fraying of social infrastructure. Social infrastructure is Social infrastructure is "a set of physical places and organizations that shape our interactions." This includes libraries, schools, playgrounds, parks, athletic fields, swimming pools. community gardens... the list is large and varied. Unlike social media, these spaces allow interactions and friendships that build community and reinforce them in times of ...more
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent and needed book

I really enjoyed this book and the lessons it imparts about the critical importance of infrastructure in today’s world. It ranges from broad theory to intimate, personal moments in the lives of real people, and everything in between. Few books tackle such a wide-ranging slice of society as social infrastructure, while also providing specific examples of how it intersects with daily life. Highly recommended for anything seeking a better understanding of how modern
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
I put this as read but this was a DNF for me after 30% through the book. Had to read it for a report so I skimmed the later chapters and read the conclusion but it was such a disappointment. I didn't feel like there was any sort of critical analysis in the book. It talked about the concept of social infrastructure which is fine and all but failed to talk about other systemic factors like antiblack racism, sexism, and capitalism that affects social structures.
Mike Stolfi
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Let's fund libraries again because people need them, & a lot more social infrastructure as well.
A virtual life pales in comparison to an actual one.
An essay on promoting social infrastructure to help fight inequality, polarization and the decline of civic life. The author Eric Klinenberg suggests opening up libraries, schools, universities and parks to the local people in general in order to promote a better life. I agree with his ideas on libraries the most. Access to a library is the best indicator of literacy in society. Access to books and free choice is important. Schools as a place to gather is wonderful too but I think the author ...more
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don't often read nonfiction, but this book did a great job of making a really fascinating academic issue accessible to people unfamiliar with sociology in general, without comprising its quality. I learned a ton from this book and it's inspiring especially in regards to civic engagement.

It also reinforced my adoration of libraries, and helped me see even more just how necessary they are in society. However, you can definitely tell the book started as a project around libraries. The first
Mar 26, 2019 added it
Social Infrastructure is defined in contrast to Social Capital. While Social Capital is a measure of people's relationships and interpersonal networks, Social Infrastructure is the about the conditions in which social capital develops.

Palaces for People tells stories about churches, libraries (the book primarily focuses on libraries and could be read as a love letter to libraries), and how social infrastructure shapes the health, education, and ability to respond to crisis. I think the book has
jasmine sun
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urbanism, design
4 stars for reviving the concept of social infrastructure in the public discourse. klinenberg illustrates how inclusive public spaces serve communities in much broader ways than their immediate uses (e.g. places for senior citizens to bond, or for refuge during natural disasters) - an idea and guiding principle that i've become obsessed with.

at the same time, i think you can get 80% of the content from an author interview - i enjoyed 99 percent invisible's episode, which initially inspired me
Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I heard the author speak at ALA and he was so dynamic that I expected more engagement from this book. Don't get me wrong, the ideas in this book are well thought out, researched and so important in today's society. I just was a bit disappointed that the writing style was scholarly and a bit dry in places. I didn't feel the author's passion as completely as I did when he was speaking at ALA. That being said, I wish every government official and city planner would read this book - the basic ...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 ...more
“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.” 8 likes
“In a world where we spend ever more of our time staring at screens, blocking out even our most intimate and proximate human contacts, public institutions with open-door policies compel us to pay close attention to people nearby. After all, places like libraries are saturated with strangers, people whose bodies are different, whose styles are different, who make different sounds, speak different languages, give off different, sometimes noxious, smells. Spending time in public social infrastructures requires learning to deal with these differences in a civil manner.” 5 likes
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