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The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  336 ratings  ·  80 reviews
An eminent political scientist’s brilliant analysis of economic, social, and political trends over the past century demonstrating how we have gone from an individualistic “I” society to a more communitarian “We” society and then back again—and how we can learn from that experience to turn the corner towards a stronger, more unified nation, from the author of Bowling Alone ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published October 13th 2020 by Simon Schuster (first published April 7th 2020)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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David Wineberg
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Millions of Americans have grown up thinking there is no alternative to the cult of the individual, living alone, striving for him or her self alone, and taking no one else into consideration. But America was not always like this. For most of the 20th century, it was all about belonging, joining, and sharing. That way of life peaked in the 1960s, and has been sliding ever since. That is the topline summary of Robert Putnam's extremely important The Upswing.

The opening salvo of Putnam and Shaylyn
Clif Hostetler
The central message of “The Upswing” is an insight that becomes apparent when viewing trends over the entirety of the 20th century: The societal sense of togetherness “we” that was true in the 1950s (but no longer true since the subsequent shift toward the individualistic sense of “I”), was itself achieved through steady growth over the first half of the 20th century.

When data from the 20th century is observed as a whole it becomes clear that many of the social and economic disparities that are
Ryan Boissonneault
Oct 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Most accounts of the current crisis in America focus on the last 40–60 years, tracing the conservative revolution that started in the 1960s, intensified in the 80s, and ultimately culminated in the era of Trump. This trend towards hyper-individualism and cultural narcissism has resulted in extreme inequality, political polarization, and social disarray and violence.

The problem with accounts such as these, however, is that they fail to take a wide enough perspective; by covering only the last 60
William Snow
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: god-tier
For anyone who wants to be an active and dutiful citizen of the US, I cannot recommend The Upswing enough!

What a brilliant book. Robert Putnam (famous author of Bowling Alone), along with the help of Shaylyn Romney Garrett, ends his career with a bang, exercising a masterful macrohistory of America in the last 125 years. In showing how the US went from The Gilded Age to the Golden Age back to a Gilded Age II, we gain the valuable insight of perspective that might just help us start bending hist
Fraser Kinnear
Oct 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, policy
Through a variety of measures, Putnam and Garrett track a 130 year long American cultural arc from individualism to collectivism and back to individualism again. They call this the “I – We – I” curve, which commenced with the Teddy Roosevelt Progressive era displacing the individualistic Gilded Age, then accumulating collectivist cultural norms and government policies until cresting in the 1960’s, with a subsequent long decline back to our contemporary individualism.
To a remarkable degree, dome
Bruce Katz
A data-rich (or data-heavy, depending on your outlook) analysis of cultural, economic, and political patterns in America over the past 150 years or so. The authors argue that today is a virtual mirror of what America was in the Gilded Age, before the Progressive movement began making legal and policy changes to reduce the many inequities of life in the US. Using all manner of lenses, they show that by every standard we've gone from an "I" culture in the Gilded Age to a "We" culture in the period ...more
Kate Schwarz
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
First 2/3 of the book: 3 stars. Last 1/3: 5 stars.

From that last chapter:

"The legacy of the Progressives points to the power of moral messaging, but also challenges us to push beyond the idea that silencing or expelling certain elements of our society, punishing offenders or replacing one faction's dominance with another's will restore the moral and cultural health of our nation. We must undertake a reevaluation of our shared values, asking ourselves what personal privileges and rights we might
Dan Connors
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
Looking back on history, we try to find patterns that can explain both the present and the future. Is history just a random procession of events, or is it a linear progression of progress both materially and socially? Alternatively, could history be a cyclical phenomenon, where trends ebb and flow for no particular reason? Robert Putnam believes that history falls into the cyclical model, and his book, Bowling Alone detailed how things had changed over a century's time. In his new book, Putnam ...more
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a new book by a well known Harvard public policy scholar (Bowling Alone). It is billed as a macro history of America from the end of the Civil War to the present. It is perhaps better seen as a report on a data base study looking from regularities in American social and political life focusing on the perspectives obtained from public opinion research across a 125 year period. If I had to place it in a genre of sorts it would be the research and policy work on “What the heck happened and ...more
Jennifer Stringer
Dec 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
This one required putting on my thinking cap and pondering a bit. The premise: Early in the 20th century, the US was coming out a gilded age that left many out and in living in extreme situations. By embracing a "we're all in this together" approach and progressive policies such as extending schooling, organizing unions, establishing community organizations (rotary, lions, etc.) scouts, public parks & museums, we created community. By adopting this approach, the US experienced an amazing upswing ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
He's done it again! Expanding on the socio-economic trend analysis from Bowling Alone, Putnam examines the last 100 years- noting the rise and fall of individualism to collectivism in American society. While he still does not offer causal theories, his ability to provide context and insight in a readable volume is consistently impressive. ...more
Lloyd Fassett
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: social-science
9/29/20 Why it's on my list: GoodReads pushed it to me as the highlighted suggestion in a regular email, so I found it that way. It's there because I really liked 'Our Kids' A LOT, which Goodreads' algorithm knows. I'm highly likely to read it. I also don't mind personalized, algorithm-driven suggestions, which is another issue altogether.

10/9/20 The Wall St. Journal has an odd review in trying to be conservative and argues a point but without direct references to the book or enough space to mak
Feb 26, 2021 rated it liked it
I read this book for a class I'm taking on Nonprofits and Society. I don't think I would've picked this book up otherwise, but that being said, I think it was interesting and a unique perspective.

Where this book really lacked for me was the "How". The subtitle suggests that Putnam is going to give the reader a guide on how to shift the country back into a "we" mentality, but does more to educate the reader on the "why" and the data surrounding that. There are 4 pages or so in the last chapter th
John Kaufmann
4-plus stars. This is an important book with a big idea -- one of my definitions for being a 5-star book.. The only thing that keeps it from being 5 stars was its readability -- it was a little on the tedious/academic side.

The main idea is that since the Gilded Age, American culture gradually swung from individualistic to more communitarian, peaking in the 1960s, and has gradually become more individualistic again since then. The authors detected this I-we-I pattern repeatedly over a number of
Heath Salzman
Dec 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, culture, 2020
This book was less ground-breaking than others Putnam has authored. This may be due to my own fatigue of reading literature trying to make sense of our chaotic age.

At any rate, it is well researched, well written, and the authors make insightful points.

The question the book leaves us with is: how do we return to a more communal society without sacrificing the gains made in individual freedoms?
Mar 01, 2021 rated it liked it
Looking at American life over the last 120 years ago and finding similar patterns of individualism vs mutualism in many different areas of life. I’m not fully convinced by all the graphs and data but it is certainly interesting to think about. Book was sometimes a bit tedious but it was intriguing to see US history through this lens.
Pat Ingellis
Nov 17, 2020 rated it liked it
excellent book, full of very well thought out ideas, can be a bit dry and difficult to get through
Jukka Aakula
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review in Finnish language by me: ...more
Brilliant analysis
Chris Bogg
Oct 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a fan of Bowling Alone and the books in the same genre written since that foretold the divisions in America in 2016, I like the more optimistic take of this book. Short version:

1. America today is strikingly similar to America of the Guilded Age on economic, political, cultural and social dimensions

2. Starting around ~1900 society began a shift away from atomization/individual/“I” to communitarian/“we” that accelerated through the 1960s. The trend then reversed and we’re at where we’re at tod
Justin Fanelli
Need to reflect more before reviewing
Martha Anne Toll
My review of this book on NPR Books. ...more
Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Brilliant concept and ideas but authors admit there’s overlap in chapters. Would benefit from chronological not topical framing.
Dan Stoyell
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was ok
I didn't put down this book very convinced that it had done a good job proving it's thesis. I found myself shaking my head at what I viewed as the flimsiness of a lot of the evidence offered (google books word frequency??). While a lot of the individual pieces of data offered are very interesting, I couldn't get over the idea that I was being sold a narrative by being offered only the data that fit the case, and even that evidence I didn't find very persuasive.

I finished the book still open the
Bill Morgan
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Too much statistics and insufficient attention to counter arguments. The authors’ suggestions are unrealistic and naive
Jan 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm not convinced.

1. The stats don't lie, and there are plenty of them, BUT how do we know that the upswing matches the mid-1900s and not the mid-1800s? Or a different era? The repetition of history can happen(hello pandemic), but other issues are harder to trace due to lack of records. Thus, it's not an airtight thesis.

2. It ignored wads of other evidence that is present in lots of other books(Jonathan Sacks, Timothy Carney, etc.) I guess it wasn't usable because the studies aren't finished?
Carolyn Kost
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was ok
I don’t feel more informed after reading this book. Upswing reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and that is not a compliment. Gladwell is a journalist popularizer who draws scant connections and attempts to simplify the complex losing all nuance along the way, while Putnam is a distinguished political scientist. As one example, Putnam and co-author Garrett repeat the flawed and incomplete narrative about sexual wage disparities without any of the qualifiers. Could this book be unfulfilling p ...more
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This refreshing book is a welcome combination of good historical research AND political science!

Just like the book "Four Threats" which I finished the day before, Putnam's "The Upswing" looks at present-day America in the larger context of our history.

The authors of "Four Threats," Suzanne Mettler and Robert Lieberman, identify four "threats" that, left untreated, can destroy democracy. [Those threats are: political polarization, conflict over who belongs in the political community, high and gr
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rick Harrington
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: america
. . . wherein I learn that I came of age at the exact pivot point for American transformation from the "I" period of the first gilded age, through the "We" period in the middle - boosted by progressivism, bumped low by the 20's and excluding blacks with irony for women - and then back again to "I" in the new (now!) gilded age.

This is a book of hope, that might very well have never been written but for lots of happenstance. It turns out that it was necessary as emendation to Putnam's earlier Bow
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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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15 likes · 2 comments
“Big, centralized government, with the proliferation of federal bureaucracies and the expansion of public welfare programs, is sometimes said to have undercut the mediating institutions of civil society, “crowded out” private generosity, and sapped individual initiative. This is a common explanation among conservative commentators, who attribute the reversal from we to I in the 1960s to the welfare state.16 Empirical evidence for “crowding out” is modest, for across states in the US and across countries in the world, the correlation between big government and social solidarity appears to be, if anything, faintly positive, not negative.” 0 likes
“the more fundamental problem with the big government explanation is that by most measures (all spending, or spending on the welfare state in real per capita terms, or spending as a fraction of GDP; number of government employees) the size of government lagged behind the I-we-I curve by several decades. Federal government spending and the number of employees rose steadily in tandem with the I-we-I curve from 1900 to 1970 and kept rising until they leveled off after the 1980s.” 0 likes
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