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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
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by Robert D. Putnam, (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

If we want to learn to redefine our lives by the stuff we use, rather than the stuff we own, we need to search out the reasons why people don't share more already. Bowling Alone shines a light on why North Americans have grown distant from one another (the main culprits are sprawl, television and the car).

With detailed arguments and research crowding every page, Putnam's classic is sure to spur new thinking about what's important in life, how we can reconnect with our families, friends and neighbors, and what that might mean for the future of cities.

"Members of a community that follows the principle of generalized reciprocity - raking your leaves before they blow into your neighbors' yard, lending a dime to a stranger for a parking meter, buying a round of drinks the week you earn overtime, keeping an eye on a friend's house, taking turns bringing snacks to Sunday school, caring for the child of the crack-head one flight down - find that their self-interest is served.

In some cases, the neighborhood lawn raking, the return of the favor is immediate and the calculation straightforward, but in some cases the return is long-term and conjectural, like the benefit of living in the kind of community where people care for neglected children. At this extreme, generalized reciprocity becomes hard to distinguish from altruism and difficult to case as self-interest. Nevertheless, this is what Tocqueville, insightfully, meant by "self-interest rightly understood."

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A great book. Perhaps the one that best explains the apathy, cynicism and disconnection in society today. If there were ever a call to action to "Get Involved" in your local community, this is it.

Posted by: Glenn on 28 Oct 06



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