There was a great deal of political discussion and activism – it was the time of civil rights (and we were all involved in sit-ins and protests to some degree) and of Kennedy’s election to the White House, which had an amazingly strong impact on young people at the time.I remember we rode overnight on a train – I, and the girl I was dating, now my wife – to Washington, and stood at the back of the crowd at the Kennedy inaugural.Based on a study of Italian politics and, in particular, the experience of the move to regional government post-1970, this book displays a number of the classic Robert Putnam hallmarks. As I was finishing my book on Italy, it occurred to me that what I was finding out as a scholar of Italian politics was connected to what worried me as an American citizen — namely, the sense that our national experiment in democratic self- government is faltering.These include: sustained and detailed attention to empirical data; a commitment to producing material that could help with the task of enhancing the quality of social and political discourse; and grounded and accessible writing. So I started digging around about trends in civic engagement in America… (AHEE interview 1995)We are not talking here simply about nostalgia for the 1950s.The book’s concern with civic community and social capital was a direct precursor to Bowling Alone (1995, 2000) – Putnam’s very influential study of the decline in civic engagement in the United States. School performance, public health, crime rates, clinical depression, tax compliance, philanthropy, race relations, community development, census returns, teen suicide, economic productivity, campaign finance, even simple human happiness — all are demonstrably affected by how (and whether) we connect with our family and friends and neighbours and co-workers.And most Americans instinctively recognize that we need to reconnect with one another.(Atlantic Unbound interview 2000) Beem (1999: 86-7) makes the point that the astonishing response to the article revealed that Putnam struck ‘a very raw, very sensitive nerve’.His case appeared to offer a clear and convincing explanation for the unease that many were feeling.
His family had been moderate Republican and Methodist, but his political and religious commitments were to not to be the same.He had wanted to do a comparative study covering Britain and a contrasting country.He chose Italy – partly influenced by Joe La Palombara’s enthusiasm for the country.The language of his speech – ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ – had a powerful personal impact.(Robert Putnam interviewed in ECPR News 2000) Rosemary also introduced him to Judaism (her faith).