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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  5,361 ratings  ·  579 reviews
Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work--but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified in this brilliant volume, which The Economist hailed as "a prodigious achievement."

Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans' changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected
Paperback, 544 pages
Published August 7th 2001 by Simon Schuster (first published 2000)
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Melissa Lots of factors including time crunch. Several decades ago, there was usually a wife at home to tend the house, prepare the meals, plan the parties. N…moreLots of factors including time crunch. Several decades ago, there was usually a wife at home to tend the house, prepare the meals, plan the parties. Now, more often than not, you've got two full time workers trying to scramble to keep everything together since it takes two full time wages to pay rent and utilities and be able to buy food.

That doesn't leave a lot of time to clean the house and plan and prepare a dinner party.(less)

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Mar 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: school, politics
Despite it's "Best Seller" status - this book left a lot to be desired. Like anyone else who knows a thing or two about political participation and social capital, this book rings hollow and insincere at certain points.

Briefly, Putnam rests far too much of his argument on the decline of traditional, conventional "community organizations" of a previous era (like The Lion's Club, the Elks or the Masons). He pays scant attention to how divisive, racist, sexist, and homophobic many of these organiz
Nov 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
God this book is painstaking. (Read: painful.) It's good, it's thorough, and I read all five hundred pages or whatever. But the writing style induces anguish. It's so full of qualifications like: "But this correlation doesn't imply causality" or "Even when we hold race, class, gender, education, and imcome constant..."

I'll save you hours of your life and give you the summary: Throughout the twentieth century, more and more Americans were participating in clubs, having dinner parties, going to ch
Orrin Woodward
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Robert Putnam's books was several books in one.

The first section (about the first 4 chapters) drew me in with a synopsis of the decline of community in America.

The second section, through chapter 15, nearly put me to sleep. :) Thankfully, however, I kept reading because from chapter 16 until the end of the book was so good, that I give it 5 stars despite the slogging in the middle. Putnam's five keys for social capital was worth the entire book. Here is my takeaways:

Putnam list five specific a
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
This book examines what Putnam believes was the downfall of civic participation or civic health throughout the 20th century in America. In order to prove his points, he uses a truckload of data to illustrate what he believes was the slow but steady decline in American community participation over the century. At the same time, he uses discussions of the makeup of communities in order to transform the numbers into something personal.

He first talks about how people get involved in their communitie
Michael Payne
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Turn off your television. Talk to your neighbors. Take a walk. Play a game with your family. Read a book. Plug back in to your community.

Close your social media accounts.

It is that simple.

It is that hard.

Ultimately, Robert Putnam identifies the rise of television as the tipping point that triggered the decline of community.

Cut the cord.
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The classic that triggered the movement to study and document the collapse of "social capital" - obligatory and reciprocal social relationships that build through more regular human interaction with neighbors as well as in groups like bowling leagues (hence the metaphor in the title) and civic groups. By the end of the last decade, arguments for strategies and interventions that would augment "social capital" in both individual and communities were vogue in grant applications, showing how quickl ...more
This is one of those books that I suspect of being cited (and argued against) far more often than it's read. In my head, I had it classed vaguely as pop social science. Turns out, I was very wrong. Bowling Alone may be the most academic book I've read since leaving college, and at times I felt like I was being beaten to the ground by statistical clubs coming at me from every direction. But despite the leaden density and occasional painful-in-retrospect predictions about our technological future, ...more
Apr 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in sociology, politics, urbanism and social relationships
Shelves: favorites
I'm not sure I could give full justice to this book in a hastily written review, so I'm not going to try. Robert Putnam's seminal treatise on social capital is jam-packed with statistics and information to back up his claims that social capital has been on a serious decline since the 1960s, much to the detriment of American society. He delineates a difference between two types of social capital--bonding (strong ties to a small inner circle of people, like family) and bridging (weak ties to a div ...more
Tom Quinn
Nov 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Perhaps ironically, I read much of this book on a flight in an effort to avoid conversation with my neighbors.

It is formulaic in that way nonfiction tends to be ("First we will examine X, then we will look at Y, and in my final chapter I will show that Z") but Putnam does show flashes of personality and charm throughout. The argument is well-supported with evidence, and it's not a Chicken Little "the sky is falling" piece. It's more like a judicious exploration of the benefits of community that
Mary H.
I remember this as being a bit unrealistic in the respect that many changes in mobility, family definition, community cohesion are changing into permanent definitions that must be worked within rather than change.
Charles J
Mar 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a famous book, but “Bowling Alone” was not what I expected. What I expected was social commentary. What I got was social science, proving with reams of statistics what is now a commonplace, that social capital in America has eroded massively over the past several decades. Of course, that it’s a commonplace is due largely to this book, published in 2000 as a follow-up to a 1995 article, so that’s hardly a criticism of the book. But, paradoxically, it’s not clear that most readers nowadays ...more
Erika RS
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned, physical
Social capital is the grease that keeps society moving, but over the past 30 years it has decreased. Bowling Alone is the influential book that gathered the data behind this trend and put social capital on the radar of the nation.

Social networks give rise to generalized reciprocity and trust. This is social capital. Reciprocity and trust are most useful when applied generally and not just those who have helped you in the past. Social capital allows society operate smoothly. People rely on social

Every so often I read a book that strikes my brain as lightening, forever altering my thinking and earning a permanent place both on my bedside bookcase and on the tip of my tongue, for I will be thinking, talking, and writing about it from that point on. Bowling Alone is such a book. In it, Robert Putnam makes the case that America has experienced over a half-century of social decline -- decline that is universal, across all demographics and throughout th
Jul 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, poli-sci
read for my social democracy seminar.

it seems really logical now, but when the book was written in 1995, and it was really, really revolutionary. his main thesis is that americans are not volunteering in the same ways in before - we are not joining community organizations anymore. young people are still volunteering, but mostly individually. (his title comes from the fact that people don't join bowling leagues anymore.)

i would recommend reading the first half, skimming the statistics, and read
Hank Stuever
Not the most exciting read ever, but it got people thinking. (And citing. I can't think of a more oft-referenced book about American life in this early part of the 21st century, except, of course, Malcolm Gladwell's stuff.) Also? I'm pretty sure it didn't move a stone, in terms of social awakening. If we were "bowling alone" in 2000 before Facebook, well, how "alone" are we now?
Alex Kurtagic
Dec 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Putnam's research on this phenomenon is valuable, but because of his egalitarian convictions he obscures a core cause of it (multiculturalism and non-White immigration) and refuses to draw the obvious conclusion or make the necessary policy recommendations.
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was once so excited to read this classic tome! I am interested in theories of social capital and other vital yet tough-to-measure (and therefore, perpetually undervalued) things in our stats-centered world. I am squarely in this book's target audience. I should have been an easy fan.

Instead, this ended up being a total slog through thick, poorly organized prose. Worse yet, I found myself frustrated and actively disagreeing with many of Putnam's takeaways. I know this piece is nearly 20 now, bu
The trend continues, according to recent research. See the Pacific Standard article, Americans Are Staying as Far Away From Each Other as Possible .

That article also links to Putnam's original 1995 essay, the genesis of this book, Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital in the Journal of Democracy.

See also the collection of responses within Social Capital: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on Civil Society by David A. Schultz [personal note: available at SFSU; HN65.S567 20
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think the book is more "academic" than needs to be and I believe there are good counterarguments that he does not consider (what about all the literature on introversion being undervalued), but over all, I think I agree that we need more social capital and I think he makes a very good case that it's important enough to pursue as social policy
Ambrose Leung
Jun 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Lots of good info but a bit dense. Some discussion gets a bit repetitive as well.
Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this book fascinating, and couldn't stop talking about it while I was reading it and for several months afterward. While I found the approach to "social capital" somewhat akin to commoditizing friendships and civic interaction, I found so much richness in Putnam's thoughtful analysis of multiple diverse data sources, with plenty of charts and graphs to enjoy!

Putnam's premise is that our stores of social capital in the U.S. have been making a drastic plummeting curve (in visual terms) sin
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
I slogged my way through this book, thinking that I needed to read it to better understand the social capital in my own community. While it did give evidentiary support to my beliefs, I did not learn anything new. I can sum up this entire work with the following, which includes word for word quotes from the last chapter:

Below are the suggestions given by Putnam after a dense analysis of factors that have led to the decline of social capital in America. Social capital is defined as: connections a
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it
There is a lot in this book that is fascinating, but like Putnam's other study, "American Grace," this probably works better as a book to scan through for a few hours rather than a book to sit down and read. Putnam gives it a structure that makes that easy - you can get a sense of the argument from the intro and conclusion, and then the book is strewn with graphs and charts which endlessly drive home the point. America used to be a nation of joiners, a nation of volunteers (volunteering actual t ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Slightly infuriating. Mostly disappointing. The entire end of Chapter 8 is Putnam berating lawyers for creating a false sense of trust and feeding off of it.

Bullshit. The reason folks want so much preventative legal service is because the law was and is used to selectively oppress folks. It's tough to trust a system that enslaved blacks, interned Asians, kept women from voting and owning land, kept browns from voting, and still continues to shit on folks.

Putnam doesn't just discount oppressed m
Aug 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any of my co-workers and friends willing to read a dense, scholarly text
In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam argues that America's social capital has declined precipitously since the 1960’s. He uses massive amounts of data to back up his argument – so much so that the book surpasses 400 pages of small print, and that’s not including the 100 or so pages of appendices. Putnam makes his point unequivocally, and manages to not bore the reader with the abundance of historical and quantitative evidence he presents. Maybe this is because the topic is inherently interested (at ...more
For all the benefits of technology, it has changed how we interact with each other in a harmful way. Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor, examines this phenomenon in Bowling Alone. Americans' proclivity to join clubs that benefit the community plummeted with the coming of the internet age. Where we used to enjoy movies together in the theater, we now stay at home; where we used to bowl in leagues, which have disappeared. Even on the street, where we could once make eye contact or say a simple hel ...more
Shane Jaynes
Feb 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Putnam does a supurb job, through extensive and detailed demographic research, of isolating a compelling social problem -- declining social and civic participation. He describes this trend in interesting ways. For instance he argues that the increasing demand for and subsequent supply of lawyers in contemporary US society represents the handicapping erosion of trust and good faith among fellow citizens. This was an "a-ha" for me, an interpretation about a well-known phenomenon (who hasn't seen t ...more
Dec 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: community-work
I have known of this book and referred to it for many years but this is the first time I have read it. In this book sociologist Robert Putnam chronicles the decline of social capital in the United States over the last century and offers suggestions on ways we can re-develop that lost social capital. Social capital is social connectedness, and the active involvement in civic affairs, whether it be in leading a Cub Scout Group, joining a service club, participating in a political campaign, or work ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Trevor Phillips OBE ,head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has chosen to discuss Robert D Putnam’s Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community , on FiveBooks ( as one of the top five on his subject - Equality, saying that:

“…In the half million interviews compiled for this book, they found that people in American society are less connected, they do fewer things together, they don’t sign petitions. Where they used to go bowling in leagues they n
Annie Feighery
Feb 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I had already been researching social networks and social capital for several years when I realized just how foundational this book was to the field. As I read it, I was amazed that many of these concepts emerged for the first time here--the very concepts that bloomed over the next 16 years into the roots of my dissertation. For what it's worth, I felt the same when I read Bourdieux's Le Capital Social--the two vie for the distinction of founding the field.

I am impressed that a scholar like Put
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Robert David Putnam is a political scientist and professor of public policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also visiting professor and director of the Manchester Graduate Summer Programme in Social Change, University of Manchester (UK). Putnam developed the influential two-level game theory that assumes international agreements will only be successfully broke ...more

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