Robert Putnam recommends 6 books on America's swinging ideology
Robert D. Putnam is the author of Bowling Alone and other influential state-of-the-nation volumes. His latest, co-written with Shaylyn Romney Garrett, is The Upswing, which argues that we are historically due for a turn away from individualism.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (1835).
The man who coined the term "individualism," Tocqueville was perhaps the first observer to describe America's unique blend of liberty and equality, achieved through what he called "self-interest, rightly understood." Required reading for aspiring communitarians.
Drift and Mastery by Walter Lippmann (1914).
At a critical historical moment when the nation was drifting down an ever-darkening path, the 25-year-old Lippmann called on citizens to repudiate fatalism and embrace their role as agents of change. His book reads like a voice from the past exhorting today's youth to master the future of our democracy.
Citizen by Louise Knight (2005).
Citizen is a compelling biography of one of the most famous drivers of America's last upswing, Jane Addams. It illuminates her transformation from melancholy schoolgirl to intrepid social entrepreneur to powerful social justice activist. Addams was one of many reformers who helped turn Americans back toward each other and a shared understanding of the common good.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (2010).
This masterful chronicle of the Great Migration tells how millions of black Americans, their hopes dashed after Reconstruction, left the South for what looked like a brighter future in the North. It's an inspiring story of black Americans' persistent faith in the promise of the American "we," and their willingness to stand up and claim their place in it — essentially against all odds.
The Seventies by Bruce Schulman (2001).
For much of the 20th century, America was building an ever more "we" society. But in the late 1960s, that trend reversed and we made a sharp turn toward "I." Schulman's engaging history brings to life the crises — political, social, economic, and cultural — that set us on a path toward the hyper-individualism we're experiencing today.
The Common Good by Robert Reich (2018).
This slim volume is a clear-eyed manifesto reminding Americans of what is possible when we commit to cooperation. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, "The fundamental rule of our national life is that, on the whole and in the long run, we shall go up or down together."
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