Putnam, not first of all a complainer, this time reaches for extremes: “We” and “Our Kids” are not merely confused or apathetic or drifting. We are clearly in crisis. Or the book could get dismissed as one more complaint about social class and the economic debates connected with both, or all, sides of class division in America. Also, it could be ignored by those who tire of nostalgic reckonings about “the good old days;” Some celebrations of them do appear here.
Putnam lovingly invokes the past as he begins with references to his own childhood years and to locales like the town in which he grew up. Winsomely and with clarity he writes about a time when the boundaries between classes were not as defined and drastic as now. But as he looks at the contemporary scene, he finds plenty of reason to describe the class gulf as “in crisis” and the “American dream” not merely fading for millions, but becoming almost irretrievably out of range for their young.
What’s missing, especially for the millions of “Their Kids” in America today? They lack agencies where “social capital”””an old Putnam phrase””is tended to. Voluntary organizations, support groups, clubs, neighborhood places, which encourage bonding and interaction are disappearing from the scene for the millions who cannot advance.