Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
In his book Happiness, former Oxford don Theodore Zeldin provided a brilliant description of life in the modern academy: “To remain sane, scholars had to become willing prisoners in a tiny cell, because here at least they could lay down the law about some tiny fragment of truth, like the habits of the earwig or the foreign policy of medieval Zanzibar. a few ambitious ones might grow dissatisfied with being master, or mistress, of only a small domain, and they might build up… grand theories… applicable to other domains; and their imperialism kept the academic world simmering in permanent nervous conflict.”
Bob Putnam has certainly been the source of much nervous conflict among his scholarly peers. As the cover of his new book reminds us, he is author of Bowling Alone, sensible marketing, given that it was a social-science smash hit in 2000. Describing his own “grand theory” of a decline in “social capital” – the ties that bind communities together – Putnam escaped the narrow confines of his Harvard office to become a global public intellectual, presidential adviser and, for the New York Times, “poet laureate of civil society”.