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The Upswing

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

From the author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids, a “sweeping yet remarkably accessible” (The Wall Street Journal) analysis that “offers superb, often counterintuitive insights” (The New York Times) to demonstrate how we have gone from an individualistic “I” society to a more communitarian “We” society and then back again, and how we can learn from that experience to become a stronger more unified nation.

Deep and accelerating inequality; unprecedented political polarization; vitriolic public discourse; a fraying social fabric; public and private narcissism—Americans today seem to agree on only one thing: This is the worst of times.

But we’ve been here before. During the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, America was highly individualistic, starkly unequal, fiercely polarized, and deeply fragmented, just as it is today. However as the twentieth century opened, America became—slowly, unevenly, but steadily—more egalitarian, more cooperative, more generous; a society on the upswing, more focused on our responsibilities to one another and less focused on our narrower self-interest. Sometime during the 1960s, however, these trends reversed, leaving us in today’s disarray.

In a “magnificent and visionary book” (The New Republic) drawing on his inimitable combination of statistical analysis and storytelling, Robert Putnam analyzes a remarkable confluence of trends that brought us from an “I” society to a “We” society and then back again. He draws on inspiring lessons for our time from an earlier era, when a dedicated group of reformers righted the ship, putting us on a path to becoming a society once again based on community. This is Putnam’s most “remarkable” (Science) work yet, a fitting capstone to a brilliant career.

Photograph by Martha Stewart

Robert D. Putnam is the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and a former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Nationally honored as a leading humanist and a renowned scientist, he has written fourteen books, including the bestselling Our Kids and Bowling Alone, and has consulted for the last four US Presidents. In 2012, President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities. His research program, the Saguaro Seminar, is dedicated to fostering civic engagement in America. Visit RobertDPutnam.com.

"Narrator Arthur Morey delivers statistical concepts with insightful tonal variations that enhance comprehension and maintain the listener's interest. Robert Putnam posits that the last 120 years of economic history have followed an "I-we-I" trajectory. The Gilded Age was marked by massive inequality and exploitation of workers. Then the New Deal and civil rights shared gains with the masses. Now we're in a new Gilded Age, with a return to inequality and individualism. Morey's clear and appealing performance makes a compelling academic argument into something much more accessible. With droll humor and steady pacing he navigates listeners through evidence found in taxation, unions, education and the like, along with commentary on how unusual baby names and self-love might indicate something telling about our culture today." 

– AudioFile Magazine

More books from this author: Robert D. Putnam

More books from this reader: Arthur Morey