Bowling Alone

Bowling Alone

The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Touchstone, 2001
First Edition: 2000 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Innovative
  • Eye Opening


Published nearly two decades ago, Bowling Alone is one of academia’s and the media’s most referenced works. Legendary professor Robert Putnam dissects the profound shift away from collective and individual social participation – a shift that began in the United States in the 1970s. He explains why it happened, what the consequences are and how to reverse this destructive tide. Though dated in some measure, this classic remains foundational in its analysis of how social participation affects prosperity, safety, health and happiness. Putnam’s website offers his more recent thoughts on the web’s social impact.

Community involvement ebbs and flows throughout US history.

Putnam, a Harvard public policy professor and National Academy of Sciences member, begins by describing the 1950s and 1960s as the pinnacle of American civic and community involvement. Afterward, he reports, the number of clubs, associations and informal gatherings began dwindling. Simultaneously, trust in politicians, neighbors and institutions of government declined.

Putnam argues persuasively that ebbs in community involvement and participatory democracy auger poorly for individuals. The lack of both strong and weak social ties affects personal economics, health and happiness. Society suffers when charitable institutions disappear, for example, when volunteer fire departments can’t attract members and when people don’t trust each other enough to extend favors. “The single most important cause of our current plight,” Putnam writes, “is a pervasive and continuing generational decline in almost all forms of civic engagement.”

About the Author

Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam, PhD, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, ranks among the world’s foremost political scientists and academics, and has written 15 books translated into 20 languages. His books include American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis and Better Together: Restoring the American Community. He shares his more current social analyses on 

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