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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  6,381 ratings  ·  710 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
Aug 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
So, I am extremely late to the party, here. I have been seeing references to "Bowling Alone" for twenty years, since well before I became concerned about the topic. As a young adult, I was a somewhat extreme individualist libertarian, not terribly good at socializing anyway, so I saw no reason to be concerned about, for example, a decline in membership in bowling leagues. Reading books is a rather private form of recreation (aside from writing Goodreads reviews, of course), and I was more intere ...more
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
Charles Haywood
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
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 ...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
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
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
Dan Connors
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books

Bowling Alone originally came out in 2001, and it captured a disturbing trend better than any other book - the decline of social capital. Capital is usually thought of in terms of money. If you have money in the bank you have financial capital that can be used later on. There is also educational capital (knowledge), working capital (equipment and buildings), and human capital (skills and know-how). But the type of capital that gets forgotten many times is social capital, or the large number of
Laura Braden
Jul 27, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2022
Everything people claimed, a classic. Quotes I am still thinking about:

“Membership [such as writing a check] is emblematic of affiliation based on symbolic affiliation rather than on personal networks. As sociologist Deborah Minkoff correctly observes in the absence of the opportunity or resources to establish face-to-face interactions, such symbolic affiliations maybe the only available mobilizing structure that can link isolated individuals. However, we should not mistake symbolic ties for pe
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
Brice Karickhoff
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
Such an important book. This whole "how to create a healthy community" kick is really turning into more than a kick for me. I'm getting pretty obsessed with the idea of preserving communities like the one I grew up in while still progressing in the ways we ought to progress as a society.

This book has two major cons: it is a little outdated and it is enormous and dense. As a result, sometimes I'd be trucking through a chapter and really just be ready for said chapter to be over. In fact, that hap
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
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-cultural
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.
Sammi Schachter
Dec 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
I learned so so much from this book. It totally changed how I view social networks and all the factors that influence our social systems. Really thought out and informative. So many statistics though that my mind went blank for long periods reading this. Definitely not a fun or quick read. Perhaps too big brain for me, but I’m glad I read this:,)
Joseph Stieb
Feb 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Probably the best sociology book I've ever read; tackling essential questions of American society and politics. WHile it is dense, Putnam advances a fascinating argument that retains its relevance 20 years later.

Putnam's argument is that social capital (SC) has declined across the board in US society, among almost every race, age group, and area, and that this is bad for citizenship, health, education, democracy, and overall well-being. SC is the idea that the relationships we for through commun
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
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? ...more
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
Ben Kandov
Jul 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
The most concise summary of this book might simply be its subtitle. For me, the greatest service Putnam provided by writing it is his "naming" of the issue of declining social capital, by meticulously documenting other trends that it correlates with: Mental, physical, and economic health; crime; trust in our peers as well as in our government; general malaise and anger. Maybe many of us don't know why we are so unhappy and cynical as a generation, or why we don't act the way ideal citizens proba ...more
Matthew Mitchell
Mar 08, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2021
I would give this 3.5 stars if possible. It’s a landmark book for a reason and incredibly resonant with the advent of social media and extrapolations one can draw from decreased civic activity and social interaction to social media isolation and increasing ostracism and mistrust between people. One key takeaway that it’s much harder to vilify people you interact with regularly, particularly in a non-political environment like a bowling league, PTA, chess club, etc. remains strong. He also makes ...more
Vince Snow
May 17, 2022 rated it really liked it
Really important book about the sociological trends that have been happening in American society since WW2. In almost every dimension individuals have decreased involvement in community affairs. Religious, political, educational, recreational, etc. Really it is a sad book. It feels odd that this book was written in 2000, it seems foreign to read about how people's television watching habits are the ones keeping them from engaging with other humans.

His invitation to "Let us find ways to ensure t
Jan 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Everything I hate about the shredding of America's social fabric summarized in 400 pages. The fact this was written in the 90s and published in 2000 is remarkable, considering that the decline has only accelerated.
My final thought: Turn off your TV and go outside. It's good for you and your community.
Jake Griess
Mar 22, 2022 rated it really liked it
Book was interesting in the beginning and then dragged for the last third. Basically, he says “we are the way we are because of TV.”
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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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