Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
This 544-page book by sociology professor Robert D. Putnam makes the case that the social capital of American citizens is declining because of increasingly diminished connections with their communities. He supports this claim with extensive interviews and research, much of which is arranged in charts and graphics. Putnam’s argument contends that disparate factors including television, two-career families, and suburban sprawl have combined to make citizens more isolated and less empathetic, feeling an alienation that threatens to have negative effects on educational performance, neighborhood safety, equitable tax collection, and health and happiness. For instance, he cites the titular bowling metaphor (more Americans go bowling than ever, but are increasingly unlikely to do so in a league) to point out that the decreased participation in clubs, leagues, religious and civic groups, and even family activities leads to a lack of the relationships and networking that comprise one’s social capital. At the end of the book Putnam suggests strategies for community rebuilding such as educational programs, work-based initiatives, and funded community service projects. Putnam uses both preexisting studies and new interviews and research for the case studies that he displays in this book, which may be valuable from an evaluation standpoint. His thesis-driven writing style might also be a good reference for those hoping to use data collection to make an argument in their own evaluations.