This latest book from political scientist Robert Putnam brings together a vast amount of factual information and data charting the decline in what has come to be known as "social capital" in the United States. Although the book is entirely focussed on the United States, the description of how civic engagement as revealed in community involvement, volunteering, voting behaviour and even informal socialising, has declined since the mid-1960s raises questions for non-American readers about whether this may be happening elsewhere and if so whether it matters. In a very clearcut and easy style, Professor Putnam reviews a growing amount of research in the US and beyond which shows that the degree to which individuals and communities are connected to each other makes a significant difference to a range of outcomes including school achievement, health, political democracy and levels of trustworthiness to mention only some - even when other factors such as income, wealth and ethnic conditions are taken into account. Some of the possible reasons for a recent decline in "social capital" are discussed and many of these will sound familiar to readers outside the US - increasing hours at work, TV watching etc. However, the most intriguing aspect is that differences between generations is what counts most. In other words, for the US at least, people born since the 1950s are less inclined to volunteer, vote, join associations and play an active role in networks. Some challenges and possible avenues for "rebuilding civic society" are discussed which will be of vital interest to a wide audience in the US and beyond. For the serious analyst or pundit of data sources and related topics, there is an extensive list of references and data sources.
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