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David Dumesh

"Bowling Alone" (Book Author: Robert R. Putnam)
By: David Dumesh
College Now Course - BSS 1

The social science book "Bowling Alone" by author Robert D. Putnam talks about how people in America have become disconnected socially in recent times. Throughout most of the book, there are many concrete examples given to support this claim. The author uses many graphs and charts to support his point, most of them dealing with volunteering and joining organizations. The wide range of charts even includes the amount of blood donors in a given year. In all of the charts present, there is a steady decline visible leading up to the present day. The book is divided into various sections dealing with the collapse of the American community. These sections include: "Trends in Civic Engagement and Social Capital", and "What is to Be Done?" with sections in between detailing how and why this collapse of society affects us.

Throughout "Trends and Civic Engagement and Social Capital", the topics range from political, civic, and religious participation to altruism, philanthropy, and volunteering. The first three topics talk about how Americans are slowly decreasing in performing their religious, political, and civil duties. A specific example of this is seen on page 71 where a graph shows a steady downfall in the general church attendance from 1940 to 1999. Surveys suggested that America was one of the most religiously observant developed countries in the world, yet many sociologists began to question this. The last three topics deal with altruism, volunteering, and philanthropy. These topics are basically about our "readiness to help others". Similar to the past three, these issues also show a steady decline in our willingness to give to charity. On page 124, there is an excellent chart titled "The Rise and Fall of Philanthropic Generosity" dated between the years 1929 and 1998. It shows that after its peak in the 1960's, the total giving by living individuals as percentage of national income took a downfall. All these topics having one important element in common; they all show a sharp decrease in the participation of the community, whether it deals with religious participation, or volunteering.

The middle sections of the book include topics such as the how and why the collapse of American community affects us directly. Chapter 10 of the book mentions how social bonds and civic engagements took a nosedive in America over the last third of the 20th century. This chapter in particular talks about how most of our social networks have basically atrophied, or withered away. It is stated that civic disengagement affects virtually all sectors of the American society over the last several decades, and all in equal measure. Chapter 16 deals with the social capital. In the chapter, it is written that social capital is steadily eroding, and in fact, very dramatically over the past couple of generations. Much of this evidence comes from analysis of the differences in social capital and civic engagement across the fifty states. On the map on page 293, social capital is seen as very high in secluded Midwestern states, while it is very low in populated areas such as our tri-state area.

Throughout the last section of the book "What is to be Done?" there are explanations to this questions. On chapter 23, the gilded age and the progressive era are mentioned. The gilded age is defined as deceptively attractive on the outside, while on the inside it is actually an age of depression. The Gilded age and the Progressive Era were the decades at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, where numerous technological, economic, and social changes transformed American life. Between 1870 and 1900, America evolved from a rural and localized traditional society, to a modem and industrialized urban nation. While this is seen as generally a beneficial thing to the country, there were many adverse effects, such as the decrease in civic engagements. There were, however, many social capital innovations, such as different associations, between the time period 1870-1920. On page 388, a graph lists the different founding dates of contemporary US associations. The climax is in 1910, while the lowest point on the graph is the present day. This graph is a paradigm for the civic engagements going on in today's society, since it shows an all-time low for the present day.

In conclusion, throughout the informative book "Bowling Alone", by Robert Putnam, there is a constant message of the collapse of America's communities. Many different factors are responsible for this, including the urbanization of our nation. There is a lot less social interaction between people, and the general fabric of our society is breaking apart. There are many examples given throughout the book that prove this point. The examples are all clearly conveyed through numerous charts and graphs. The author's main message is that the collapse of American society is something that affects us all, and we must start becoming active in our community again.