cover image The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again

The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again

Robert D. Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett. Simon & Schuster, $32.50 (480p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2914-9

America’s deep-seated divisions were healed in the past and can be again, argues this sweeping and persuasive study. Harvard sociologist Putnam (Bowling Alone) and Aspen Institute strategist Garrett posit a 125-year “I-We-I” arc starting about 1890, during which America, through the Depression, World War II, and the postwar boom, saw a grand upsurge of “we”-centered community spirit, shared economic advancement, social solidarity, and political consensus. Unfortunately, they contend, the upheavals of the 1960s inaugurated a 50-year downswing into the current “I”-centered slough of narcissistic individualism, economic inequality, social isolation, and bitter political polarization. Putnam and Garrett tell this story in lucid prose illustrated with fascinating data on everything from taxes on the rich to marriage rates, the ratio of the words “we” and “I” in books, and the frequency of unusual baby names. While the authors explore possible causes for community unraveling—government policy, conservative backlash, do-your-own-thing liberalism, globalization—they eschew reductionist explanations. Less satisfyingly, they present no solutions besides vaguely reprising the 20th-century Progressive era’s mix of idealism and pragmatism. Still, this fresh, ambitious take on America’s fraying social fabric will provoke much discussion. (Oct.)