The importance of this book is such that anyone with the remotest interest in community or social life, whether their own or others', should read it at least once. Oldenburg's premise is deceptively simple: that a community needs a third place, a place that is neither one's home nor work, in order to mingle and strengthen social and personal ties. But he goes a lot further than that, showing how even individual health and security are reliant on such establishments; and that democracy itself is dependent as evidenced by attempts in the 17th century in Sweden and England to close down coffee houses as they were considered hotbeds of dissent i.e. people thinking for themselves. The lack of third places in modern western culture therefore takes on quite a serious, if not sinister, tone.
Having read Putnam's 'Bowling Alone', where he references Oldenburg quite considerably, I was unsure about buying this book as the premise seemed simple and quite obvious. But that doesn't do justice to the wealth of material here, and surprising revelations. For instance, what I considered fully functioning third places where I meet friends in London, turn out to be BYOFs - Bring Your Own Friends - where the social interaction is severely limited to small independent groups, therefore having limited benefit for the larger community.
I have one criticism and one only, which is similar to that I have of Putnam where he appears so convinced of the positive effects of social capital that he isn't aware of its potential for destructive influence, such as social bullying and subtle conditioning at the expense of the individual. With 'The Great Good Place', Oldenburg is likewise so convinced of his own argument - and it IS convincing - that he takes it too far, possibly, in one later chapter where he calls for the segregation of the sexes. He may be right, but he doesn't put his case convincingly to others; and one can't escape the feeling that he's basically a good old boy coming from another era, that he doesn't know a society where men and women can relax in one another's company and be straightforward and honest with each other. But then he picks up speed again after this chapter, and is right back on form.
Overall this is an extraordinarily fascinating and informative book, full of modern and historical anecdotes, and provides much-needed insight into the ailments of modern society, as well as cures that actually succeed as I have discovered in my own community work.