Review of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone

I am in the tail end of a Msc in Social Change. The program is essentially half social policy and half social statistics. Bowling Alone was unofficially required reading since Putnam was referenced in almost everything else we read.

Description from Goodreads:
In a groundbreaking bestseller based on vast new data, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures–and tells how we may reconnect.

If you have any sort of interest in social behavior you’ll want to read this book. It pulls a lot of threads together to make one concise and frightening point about modern Americans’ tendency to interact (or not). The idea not being that Americans no longer bowl, but that they no longer join leagues and bowl in groups. It’s something an idea we are all fairly familiar with, but Putnam pulls together a number of social surveys to illustrate the point.

The book isn’t perfect. Anything more than a perfunctory look at the statistics reveals some inconsistencies in the reporting of results. I’m not suggesting any type of falsehood, but the incline of a line on a graph with 10 year increments can appear far more dramatic than one with 1 year increments, for example, even if presenting the same information. Bowling alone is cleverly formated to always seems the most shocking.

Having said that, this book rocked my world. It managed to make a heavily statistical subject readable, made some interesting points, and provided a plausible (and largely blameless) reason for the decline in group interactions. I definitely recommend it.

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