Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam, is one of the more important books I've read as an adult, both personally and professionally. I decided to make it my first book recommendation post for that reason. Simply put, Bowling Alone focuses on the decline of the "American Community" over the last 30-40 years. Putnam defines our interpersonal connectivity to our families, neighbors, communities, and country as "social capital," and documents how social capital consistently rose from 1900 or so through the 1950s, only to decline steadily since. The book also describes why this is important, by chronicling the importance of social capital (which includes both formal social participation, such as joining the PTA, as well as informal schmoozing, such as inviting friends over for dinner) to all sorts of personal and societal health measures. Reasons for the decline are examined, and suggestions for reversing the trend are offered.
On a personal level, the book appealed to me as a father and a member of the community. It has taken me a long time to appreciate the importance of community involvement, though I have made strides. This book reinforced this importance to me. What's really effective about Bowling Alone in this respect is how much it encourages the "little things," everyday activities that don't seem like much but are. For example, simply eating dinner with your family with the television off will make you feel like Father or Mother of the Year, because so many families aren't doing it! The other piece of this puzzle is that, being a father, I want to try and model a positive sense of family and community for my kids. This book underscored that importance, and proved to be motivational in that respect.
Professionally, social capital is extremely important in the treatment of many mental health issues, especially depression. Interestingly, at a presentation by Dr. Michael Yapko last year, significant attention was paid to the idea that treatment of anxiety and depression needs to be active, with lots of "doing," including interpersonal activities. This isn't exactly new, but as the research continues to come in, the importance of improving one's social capital can not be overstated.
Dr. Putnam has a web site entitled Bowling Alone, which has links to his book, some statistics, and suggestions for how everyone can increase their social capital. If you are in the mental health profession, this web site and book is a terrific resource for addressing depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. If you're a parent, or just someone concerned with making the world a better place one small step at a time, this book will also prove helpful. Going forward, I know I'll be posting highlights of the book, but I can't recommend enough how much I think everyone should read the whole thing.