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Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

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An eminent sociologist and bestselling author offers an inspiring blueprint for rebuilding our fractured society. We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn't seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come tog An eminent sociologist and bestselling author offers an inspiring blueprint for rebuilding our fractured society. We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn't seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come together, to find common purpose. But how, exactly, can this be done? In Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg suggests a way forward. He believes that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches, synagogues, and parks where crucial, sometimes life-saving connections, are formed. These are places where people gather and linger, making friends across group lines and strengthening the entire community. Klinenberg calls this the "social infrastructure" When it is strong, neighborhoods flourish; when it is neglected, as it has been in recent years, families and individuals must fend for themselves. Klinenberg takes us around the globe--from a floating school in Bangladesh to an arts incubator in Chicago, from a soccer pitch in Queens to an evangelical church in Houston--to show how social infrastructure is helping to solve some of our most pressing challenges: isolation, crime, education, addiction, political polarization, and even climate change. Richly reported, elegantly written, and ultimately uplifting, Palaces for the People urges us to acknowledge the crucial role these spaces play in civic life. Our social infrastructure could be the key to bridging our seemingly unbridgeable divides--and safeguarding democracy.


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An eminent sociologist and bestselling author offers an inspiring blueprint for rebuilding our fractured society. We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn't seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come tog An eminent sociologist and bestselling author offers an inspiring blueprint for rebuilding our fractured society. We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn't seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come together, to find common purpose. But how, exactly, can this be done? In Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg suggests a way forward. He believes that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches, synagogues, and parks where crucial, sometimes life-saving connections, are formed. These are places where people gather and linger, making friends across group lines and strengthening the entire community. Klinenberg calls this the "social infrastructure" When it is strong, neighborhoods flourish; when it is neglected, as it has been in recent years, families and individuals must fend for themselves. Klinenberg takes us around the globe--from a floating school in Bangladesh to an arts incubator in Chicago, from a soccer pitch in Queens to an evangelical church in Houston--to show how social infrastructure is helping to solve some of our most pressing challenges: isolation, crime, education, addiction, political polarization, and even climate change. Richly reported, elegantly written, and ultimately uplifting, Palaces for the People urges us to acknowledge the crucial role these spaces play in civic life. Our social infrastructure could be the key to bridging our seemingly unbridgeable divides--and safeguarding democracy.

30 review for Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Gives perspective and case studies regarding social infrastructure. Especially relevant to public libraries and other civic institutions looking for ways to be more welcoming and responsive to their community. Very timely and useful. I took a star off because I found the text somewhat rambling and roundabout. I thought it would be much more useful to divide chapters by type of institution, so those reading for institutional purposes could easily find what they're looking for. I did see an indicat Gives perspective and case studies regarding social infrastructure. Especially relevant to public libraries and other civic institutions looking for ways to be more welcoming and responsive to their community. Very timely and useful. I took a star off because I found the text somewhat rambling and roundabout. I thought it would be much more useful to divide chapters by type of institution, so those reading for institutional purposes could easily find what they're looking for. I did see an indication that the finished copy will have an index, so that should help. I received an advanced copy from the publisher via Netgalley for review consideration.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Trish Tomes

    I was excited when I won this book on Goodreads. I want to thank them and Putnam books to get a pre-publication copy of it. It is an excellent book for activists who what to improve their :communities. Most of the examples given are from big cities, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Singapore. The surprising entry was from Iceland but nothing like that is possible in the US. Their communal swimming pools reminded me of the baths of ancient Rome and Greece that still are popular in Turkey and Hun I was excited when I won this book on Goodreads. I want to thank them and Putnam books to get a pre-publication copy of it. It is an excellent book for activists who what to improve their :communities. Most of the examples given are from big cities, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Singapore. The surprising entry was from Iceland but nothing like that is possible in the US. Their communal swimming pools reminded me of the baths of ancient Rome and Greece that still are popular in Turkey and Hungary. Will this be a trend that catches on? I think many cities and towns are catching on to the need to better serve the social aspects of their cities. Not just the elected officials taking action but churches, too, are stepping up to address the need. Still, it will be difficult to fully integrate new immigrants into our society as they tend to cluster together, you know, birds of a feather . . . There is comfort in the familiar: their foods, their churches/mosques/synagogues/temples. They can interact at work and social clubs, then return to their comfort zones.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Doni

    I enjoyed his tribute to libraries; was skeptical of his pro-corporate solutions such as Gates' donations to create smaller schools. Liberal, not radical, and therefore insufficient targeting of capitalism's fundamental flaws.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    ***I received this book for free from the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.*** In "Palaces our the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life," Eric Klineberg adroitly argues the importance of social infrastructure, a phrase he defines as, "the physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops" (5). The book, which is divided into six chapters--not including the introduction and conclusion--a ***I received this book for free from the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.*** In "Palaces our the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life," Eric Klineberg adroitly argues the importance of social infrastructure, a phrase he defines as, "the physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops" (5). The book, which is divided into six chapters--not including the introduction and conclusion--are divided topically (health concerns, climate change, political polarization, etc). Within each chapter, Klineberg discusses various types of social infrastructure that relevant, although it quickly becomes clear that libraries are his favorite, as they make an appearance in nearly every chapter. In hardly more than 200 words, "Palaces for Our People" presents a compelling argument for bolstering social infrastructure. The book is well-researched, with Klineberg utilizing personal research, in addition to other scholarly sources. Additionally, it's an easy read and very well-written. As someone who picked up this book knowing very little the topic, I now feel well-versed in the various benefits of social infrastructure. I'm not sure if I buy the author's argument that it is AS important as "hard" infrastructure, but I can appreciate his point of view. Still, I'm giving this book four out of five stars for several reasons. Klineberg's chapters can be redundant. As previously mentioned (appreciate my irony here), Klineberg returns to his precious library examples on numerous occasions, and while the institutions certainly have multiple purposes, he reiterates his points. Given that I read this in [nearly] one sitting, this was unnecessary and rather annoying. Moreover, he spent nearly four pages describing a bowling game in excruciating detail--thankfully this stylistic choice was not repeated in any other chapter. Another issue I had with the book was Klineberg's tendency to climb on a political soap box. Although social infrastructure and its continued funding is, without a doubt, a political issue, his arguments would slide into partisan rhetoric. The author often redirected the discussion before it strayed too far from his argument, but I believe his points at such sections could have been more carefully argued. Finally, my one other contention is less the fault of the author and on the publisher. The copy I was given lacked page numbers beside chapters in the 'Contents' and 'Notes' sections. The index was completely blank. -x- TLDR; It was a good book--well-written and thoroughly researched. I learned a lot about social infrastructure. 4/5 stars because 1) author can be redundant at times, 2) author occasionally veered too far into political discussions that weren't as pertinent to his argument, and 3) the publisher messed up some printing stuff.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I thought this book was fantastic because it provided clear and specific solutions for our current problems of inequity and polarization. What if you could help an entire neighborhood manage stress, depression and anxiety by increasing access to green space and public gardens? What if you could improve health outcomes for communities by fostering spaces for social connection? What if you coud increase the chance of surviving the next catastrophic storm while creating beautiful new parks? Well, I thought this book was fantastic because it provided clear and specific solutions for our current problems of inequity and polarization. What if you could help an entire neighborhood manage stress, depression and anxiety by increasing access to green space and public gardens? What if you could improve health outcomes for communities by fostering spaces for social connection? What if you coud increase the chance of surviving the next catastrophic storm while creating beautiful new parks? Well, guess what, we already know these things work because they have happened! Some of his stories of social connection in libraries moved me to tears. He also addresses climate change, public housing, education, churches, and social media. It's very readable, so please do!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Pam Kellman

    I checked this book out from my branch library, and after reading it, I'm so grateful for my library! This is a book every voter should read, and a must-read for our elected representatives. Thoroughly researched and written in such an accessible, readable language, Klinenberg combines social science with anecdotes of lived experiences to show why social infrastructure is just as important for our country's health and future as improvements to our decaying infrastructure. An especially poignant I checked this book out from my branch library, and after reading it, I'm so grateful for my library! This is a book every voter should read, and a must-read for our elected representatives. Thoroughly researched and written in such an accessible, readable language, Klinenberg combines social science with anecdotes of lived experiences to show why social infrastructure is just as important for our country's health and future as improvements to our decaying infrastructure. An especially poignant read in our political climate right now, and it touches on why our reliance on the philanthropy of billionaires instead of holding our government accountable is shaping our world into something we don't want.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    I enjoyed this book, particularly for its focus on the theory of social infrastructure. This approach was not practical but I think we have to know "why" before "how," which is partially Klinenberg's goal in writing. This book is important and I would recommend it to anyone. Although the author is a sociologist, his writing is accessible (without dumbing things down). I will say that each chapter kind of functions as its own essay so it is may not be necessary to read the whole book. The whole b I enjoyed this book, particularly for its focus on the theory of social infrastructure. This approach was not practical but I think we have to know "why" before "how," which is partially Klinenberg's goal in writing. This book is important and I would recommend it to anyone. Although the author is a sociologist, his writing is accessible (without dumbing things down). I will say that each chapter kind of functions as its own essay so it is may not be necessary to read the whole book. The whole book is good but one chapter with a preferred focus will cover the heart of the argument.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    The author describes how social infrastructure is critical for the well being of humans. Social infrastructure, basically, is any place that people can build a support network (i.e. libraries). The decline of social infrastructure, the author argues, diminishes support networks, and make us less tolerant of differing beliefs leading to the current rifts in America. Palaces for the People is well written, well researched, and a little redundant. I also do not like how the author gives only exampl The author describes how social infrastructure is critical for the well being of humans. Social infrastructure, basically, is any place that people can build a support network (i.e. libraries). The decline of social infrastructure, the author argues, diminishes support networks, and make us less tolerant of differing beliefs leading to the current rifts in America. Palaces for the People is well written, well researched, and a little redundant. I also do not like how the author gives only examples from large metropolitan areas. [I got this book via a Goodreads giveaway]

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    Interesting sociological study on social infrastructure. I received it from a Giveaways Contest. This book explains social infrastructure and gives antidotal evidence on the merits of the topic. It was an interesting study and one that should be read by those interested in sociology, urban studies, and communities.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Noe

    I received an ARC of this at ALA. And because Eric focuses a lot on libraries, I'm naturally a little biased toward loving this. But let's put it this way: I enjoyed it so much and want to return to it for future work, I'll be buying a copy even though I have the ARC.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    A great defense of public libraries ! !

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Amazing!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    There are some great chapters about libraries as a community hub.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary Tharp

  18. 5 out of 5

    Grace

  19. 4 out of 5

    Derek Ouyang

  20. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steve Nolan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Avid Reader

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mindy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Lantern

  27. 4 out of 5

    Olivia Whitener

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

  30. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Zemba

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