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The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  40 reviews
In today's world, it is more acceptable to be depressed than to be lonely-yet loneliness appears to be the inevitable byproduct of our frenetic contemporary lifestyle. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, one out of four Americans talked to no one about something of importance to them during the last six months. Another remarkable fact emerged from the 2000 U.S. Ce ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 1st 2009 by Beacon Press
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An even-toned book on a timely and important topic, The Lonely American advances a thoughtful thesis: our efforts at stepping back from the light-speed hubbub of our daily lives to reconnect with "what's important" might inadvertently exacerbate our disconnect.

The authors provide some good insight on the psychological, evolutionary and (very simplified) neurobiological dimensions of bond formation. They also provide a good explanation of social exclusion and its effects (such as increased aggres
Jul 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book contains an excellent critique of the cult of busyness that most of us are committed to, and how that negatively affects our relationships. I felt very convicted by my natural tendency to withdraw from the hectic world and isolate (cocoon) myself within my family... and how that results in a self-imposed loneliness that I later regret. I highly recommend it... it's a quick read because it's so interesting! ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Quotes I found interesting:

"gossip plays the same role for humans that grooming behavior does for other primates. It creates bonds between individuals tht go beyond the basic reproductive units of sexual partners and their offspring. It creates groups." P. 65

As group size increases, so does the size of the neocortex." P. 65

48 percent of all households on the island [of Manhattan] are one-person households. P. 79

Does time on the Internet replace other forms of social connection, or does it supple
Sarah Dale
May 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
Very readable and a well-informed and interesting reflection on what is happening to many people in Western societies, not just America. Loneliness is often a taboo subject but can have a profound effect on how vulnerable we are to mental (and physical) ill-health. A very important topic I think.
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you feel like the only person in the United States with no one to talk to, join the club. In this psychological-sociological look at the growing tendency to sever connections with other people, we learn that one-quarter of the households in this country are occupied by only one person and one-quarter of the population say they have not talked to anyone about anything important to them for six months or longer. Olds and Schwartz, married Boston psychiatrists, discuss the ways people step back ...more
Tabitha Gallman
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't recommend this book enough. It is written by two clinical professors of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. From an appropriate perspective, the doctors have shared their research on the subject of loneliness within our culture. The doctors discovered through data collected from stories of patients that a pattern was emerging concerning loneliness and the ill effect it has holistically and culturally. The book discusses so many aspects of loneliness including the stigma around it, the ...more
Viewpoints Radio
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Everyone needs some alone time in their lives. Although often times alone time may be nice, research finds that too much alone time can affect our mental health. Loneliness and social isolation can have significant effects on our physical health and also increase the risk of death. Jacqueline Olds and Dr. Richard Schwartz dive in to the lasting effects of loneliness in this book. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Richard Schwartz, co-author of this book, to discuss loneliness and how we c ...more
James Ruley
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” sparked a multitude of books discussing the dissolution of communal bonds in America. “The Lonely American” is one of those books. This work discusses how Americans have become lonely through a combination of busyness, individualism, and self reliance. While this book does not condemn “being alone” it critiques the idol that our culture has made of isolation, and suggests that many of our problems would be alleviated through forging stronger bonds with other. ...more
Erica Clou
Being too busy is bad, but even worse is checking out of social life. When this happens people get depressed, then use alcohol, drugs, or pharmaceuticals to deal with their depression. Therapy is better but still unideal. The authors admit this is a societal problem - both being too busy and being isolated- but then sort of vaguely suggest we just force ourselves to socialize.
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read
Clearly explained reasons why being alone as often as we choose to be in american may not be serving us and ways that we can change. I really appreciated the authors making space in the book to cover the myriad areas the "alone" trend impacts from our emotional and physical health to the impact on the planet as we become more and more of a consumer based culture. ...more
Mehrzad M.
Mar 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021, audiobook
Chapter 7 of the book covers loneliness in relationships / marriage. Hands down, the best chapter of the book, and without a doubt, best chapter I've ever listened to about loneliness in any book! And to be honest, the only reason I gave this one 4-stars. ...more
Crista Colvin
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Would like to hear the authors' thoughts on the effect of marital "cocooning" on unmarried friends. ...more
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very surprising I enjoyed it. It was eye-opening.
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
i am so fucking lonely.
Jan 04, 2010 rated it liked it
This book begins with the premise from Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone (a changing-my-world-view book) that people are not as connected as they used to be and that the outcomes of this are negative for society and the individual. The thesis of The Lonely American is that people drift away from social connections because of push and pull factors. The push is the frenetic and overscheduled intensity of modern life and the pull is the American ideal of the self-reliant hero that stands apart from the ...more
This book is pretty depressing (but really well written and interesting!), but I read all the way through it anyway, because it confirmed a sense I have been having about modern society, and American society in particular, which is that we're just not as connected as we used to be. This book cites all sorts of studies, all sorts of personal observations, and of course all the technological innovations like the Internet, Facebook, etc., that have become so indispensible but more and more just kee ...more
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellently presented, interesting examples given, and generally well-written, 'The Lonely American' explores the causes and effects of stepping back from our busy lives. I particularly enjoyed chapters 1, 2, 6, & 10.

Some quotes I found interesting:
"Cocooning is the couples' version of social isolation. It does increase closeness in marriages. It also increases the fragility of marriage, the burdens placed upon marriage, and, over time, it increases the likelihood of both divorce and loneliness"
With Butterflies
An interesting read. The book attempts to shed light on the social disconnection of the modern American.

At times it seems as if the authors will use anything (Netflix questionnaires?) to prove their point of view, yet most of their cites are concrete.

What bothered me most of all was the insistence that one cannot live a fulfilled life without the varied connections the authors seem to believe we need. I'm not saying we should all be our own islands of existence, but I don't think it is a dange
Mar 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Super readable. Easy to quote from. Enjoyable to read cover-to-cover (which I so rarely get to do when sermon writing). Relevant, very current (2009), Beacon Press. In several places, quietly affirms the value and importance of welcoming, open-minded, enduring religious communities. Gave me some great analysis to mull over about Facebook, online dating, all the current forms of connecting online, what they add to our lives and what they're missing. ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I see loneliness as endemic to contemporary America. Everywhere I go, I meet the lonely.

Olds explores this issue. How did this come to occur? Why? Where? What can be done about it?

Like most books about social problems, the thinnest section of the book is home remedies. And that is the section we need most.
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is about being lonely in life in the 21st century. We devote more time to technology to stay connected than any society in history, yet studies show that we feel alone anyway. People are way too busy now and have forgotten how to belong. They do not know their neighbors and do not make any real life in person friends. I find that so sad. I am glad for the people I have in my life.
Connie D
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a wise and thoughtful book about subtle changes in our lives and our communities that I had felt but not been able to identify. (Awareness of how we have stepped back from people is a key step.) The authors discuss how our culture's appreciation of solitude and independence has created various complicated problems, including but not limited to loneliness. Also very well written! ...more
Jason Weill
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A good follow-up for anyone who enjoyed "Bowling Alone." Written in 2008, this book looks at the sociological, psychological, and physiological effects of loneliness. As the share of single-person households in the U.S. climbs, these issues have greater importance than ever. Great quick read with a mix of engaging anecdotes and acadmic data. ...more
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it

I really liked this indepth look at how many factors in modern America have contributed to a rise in loneliness. It definitely made me think about why I sleep with a cell phone on my nightstand and encouraged me to pick up the phone instead of sending an email.
Such an amazing read!!! This book gives you so much to think about our society and culture, as well as our own day-to-day actions. I would recommend this to everybody who has a very busy lifestyle, as well as to everybody who has withdrawn from that life and is now feeling left out. So good!
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
A timely critique on American culture.
Victoria Weinstein
Sep 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wow, is this a good book.
Stan Leland
Oct 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding study of relationship disintegration in America. Very readable and thought provoking
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2012
Interesting ideas. I can see where "he was so quiet and never bothered his neighbors" might be a warning signal given the thesis of this book. ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting concepts but lots of fluff material and anecdotes that are neither entertaining nor informative much less both. Only read if you enjoy psych articles.
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