Francis Fukuyama at the Financial Times:
Yet much of the current debate about inequality has a strangely abstract quality, focusing on the excesses of the 1 per cent without really coming to terms with what has happened to the American middle class over the past two generations. Into this void steps the political scientist Robert Putnam, with a truly masterful volume that should shock Americans into confronting what has happened to their society.
Putnam begins his analysis with a vignette of his home town of Port Clinton, Ohio, where he graduated from high school in 1959. He notes that while there were class differences then, there was a much higher degree of social equality: children of the wealthiest families in town befriended kids from working-class backgrounds. This equality was underpinned by a critical social reality: virtually everyone, rich or poor, grew up in a two-parent family in which fathers had steady jobs. He then fast-forwards to the present, where deindustrialisation has led to a social transformation in which the proportion of children born to unwed parents rose to 40 per cent, while drug use and crime became rampant. In the meantime, a new tier of luxury gated communities has appeared on the nearby shores of Lake Erie.
Putnam moves seamlessly from these stories to social-science data that confirm a truth understood by specialists for some years now.