BETTER TOGETHER: Restoring the American Community

Robert D. Putnam, Author, Lewis M. Feldstein, Author, Don Cohen, With . Simon & Schuster $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7432-3546-4

Putnam's much praised Bowling Alone put the concept of social capital (social networking) into broad currency by remarking on its growing absence. Now the Harvard prof and fellow public policy expert Feldstein approach the issue from the opposite direction: without suggesting communitarianism is sweeping the nation, they offer a dozen case studies of what groups of varying size have accomplished by cultivating networks of mutual assistance. Examples range from a neighborhood subdivision in Boston to an entire Mississippi county as well as the "virtual community" of Craigslist, an online bulletin board that has become the prime "go-to" source for job and apartment listings in San Francisco and elsewhere. The authors stress the importance of participatory involvement, championing networks that create opportunities for people to find their own public voice rather than relying on organizers to speak for them. Thus, one chapter recounts a New Hampshire public arts project in which townspeople's stories created the structure of an interpretive dance about a local shipyard's history; another chapter has schoolchildren in Wisconsin writing to local and state leaders to propose public improvements. Though each group is, as one person puts it, "recreating our neighborhood into the kind of village we want it to be," the book emphasizes no particular approach, juxtaposing the work of local governments with neighborhood associations and churchgoers with union organizers. The overarching argument, supported anecdotally rather than statistically, is tentative—something's going on but it's too early to tell how big it might become—but Putnam's reputation will guarantee the book a hearing. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn.(Sept. 10)

Reviewed on: 07/14/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Paperback - 318 pages - 978-0-7432-3547-1
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4391-0688-4
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