Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg

Crown Publishing, 2019

A non-fiction pick by Jean-Louis

The thrust of Klinenberg’s book is neatly encapsulated by its subtitle, “How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civil life.” As a sociologist his view of the world is broad and open to multiple points of view. His writing style is easy to engage with and his anecdotes are well chosen to connect with non-academic readers. This book is for anyone who lives in society and has a stake in making life better.

Klinenberg’s concept of “social infrastructure” is quite wide reaching and includes discussion about flood protection structures, public gardens, neighborhood cafes, daycares, churches, and libraries. Actually he is a really big fan of the public library as much more than a building that houses books and magazines. I have to say that I agree with him! The book is worth reading just for his appreciation of libraries as egalitarian enterprises that allow for people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic backgrounds to come into contact (and hopefully dialogue) with one another.

The book also looks at some larger societal challenges such as global warming and associated weather-related events such as heat waves and flooding. He makes the case that public investments in “social infrastructure” can make the difference between social collapse and healthy resilience. Making the right choices on flood protection can save the built environment but can also lead to healthier neighborhoods.

As I said, this book is good for anyone to read whether you are a city manager, council member, librarian, or an engaged citizen. There is good advice in this book and I encourage you all to have a read!

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