Ways in to the Text
The American academic Robert D. Putnam was born in 1941 and grew up in Ohio. He left his small town for the suburbs of Philadelphia, receiving his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College. He began his career as a professional academic at the University of Michigan, moving to Harvard University in 1979. He wrote Bowling Alone during his tenure at Harvard, publishing it first as an article in the quarterly academic publication Journal of Democracy and then expanding it to book length. Putnam analyzed various measures—volunteering, attendance at town meetings, membership of formal organizations, and even the throwing of informal dinner parties—to demonstrate that levels of engagement have fallen since the end of World War II. His ideas have been applied to a variety of social challenges, ranging from health debates to the resolution of disputes. His advice has been sought by political leaders of all stripes—from current US president Barack Obama to former president George W. Bush.