A national bestseller, written by Robert Putnam about the breakdown of what he calls "social capital" -- the formal and informal relations between individuals that make up the fabric of our everyday lives.

The book itself represents over 500 heavily-footnoted pages of data. Here are some of the most pertinent findings, broken down according to chapter. I will update this writeup with additional sources and figures as time permits.

"Before October 29, 1997, John Lambert and Andy Boschma knew each other only through their local bowling league at the Ypsi-Arbor lanes in Ypsi-lanti, Michigan. Lambert, a sixty-four old retired employee of the University of Michigan hospital, had been on a kidney transplant waiting list for three years when Boschma, a thirty-three-year-old accountant, learned casually of Lambert's needs and unexpectedly approached him to offer to donate one of his own kidneys.

"Andy saw something in me that others didn't," said Lambert. "When we were in the hospital Andy said to me, 'John, I really like you and have a lot of respect for you. I wouldn't hesitate to do this all over again.' I got choked up." Boschma returned the feeling: "I obviously feel a kinship with Lambert. I cared about him before, but now I'm really rooting for him." This moving story speaks for itself, but the photograph that accompanied this report in the newspaper reveals that in addition to their differences in profession and generation, Boschma is white and Lambert is African American. That they bowled together made all the difference. In small ways like this -- and in larger ways, too -- we Americans need to reconnect with one another. That is the simple argument of this book."

1. Political Participation

"On the positive side of the ledger, Americans today score about as well on a civics test as our parents and grandparents did, though our self-congratulation should be restrained, since we have on average four more years of formal schooling than they had. Moreover, at election time we are no less likely than they were to talk politics or express interest in a campaign. On the other hand, since the mid-1960s, the weight of evidence suggests, despite the rapid rise in levels of education Americans have become perhaps 10-15 percent less likely to voice our views publicly by running for office or by writing Congress or the local newspaper, 15-20 percent less interested in politics and public affairs, roughly 25 percent less likely to vote, roughly 35 percent less likely to attend public meetings, both partisan and nonpartisan, and roughly 40 percent less engaged in party politics and indeed in political and civil organizations of all sorts."

2. Civic Participation

"Measured in terms of hours per month, the average American's investment in organizational life (apart from religious groups) fell from 3.7 hours per month in 1965 to 2.9 in 1975 to 2.3 in 1985 and 1995. On an average day in 1965, 7 percent of Americans spent some time in a community organization. By 1995 that figure had fallen to 3 percent of all Americans. Those numbers suggest that nearly half of all Americans in the 1960s invested some time each week in clubs and associations, as compared to one quarter in the 1990s. Further analysis of time diary evidence suggests that virtually all of this decline is attributable to generational replacement: members of any given generation are investing as much time in organizational activity as they ever were, but each successive generation is investing less."

"Organizational records suggest that for the first two-thirds of the twentieth century Americans' involvement in civic associations of all sorts rose steadily, except for the parenthesis of the Great Depression. In the last third of the century, by contrast, only mailing list membership has continued to expand, with the creation of an entirely new species of "tertiary" association whose members never actually meet. At the same time, active involvement in face-to-face organizations has plummeted, whether we consider organizational records, survey reports, time diaries, or consumer expenditures. During the last third of the twentieth century formal membership in community organizations in general has dropped 10-20 percent."

3. Religious Participation

"Five independent survey archives, covering much of the last half century, generally agree that in any given week over these five decades, roughly 40-45 percent of Americans claim to have attended religious services. The earliest surveys show a sharp rise of 15-20 percent in the rate of church attendance from the 1950s to the 1960s and a decline of that same magnitude by the early 1970s. The five archives produce slightly divergent estimates of the trends after 1975, but the most reasonable summary is that attendance has slumped -- modestly but unmistakably -- by roughly 10-12 percent over that last quarter century. The slump appears to have been more marked in the second half of this period -- that is, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s."

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