• Palaces for the People

  • How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life
  • By: Eric Klinenberg
  • Narrated by: Rob Shapiro
  • Length: 8 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 09-11-18
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (30 ratings)

Regular price: $28.00

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Publisher's Summary

Longlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

Shortlisted for the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice 

An eminent sociologist and best-selling 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.

“Eric Klinenberg offers a new perspective on what people and places have to do with each other.... In case after case, we learn how socially-minded design matters.... Anyone interested in cities will find this book an engaging survey that trains you to view any shared physical system as, among other things, a kind of social network." (New York Times Book Review)

“The aim of this sweeping work is to popularize the notion of ‘social infrastructure” - the ‘physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact‘.... Here, drawing on research in urban planning, behavioral economics, and environmental psychology, as well as on his own fieldwork from around the world, [Eric Klinenberg] posits that a community’s resilience correlates strongly with the robustness of its social infrastructure. The numerous case studies add up to a plea for more investment in the spaces and institutions (parks, libraries, childcare centers) that foster mutual support in civic life.” (The New Yorker)

“An illuminating examination.... Klinenberg’s observations are effortlessly discursive and always cogent, whether covering the ways playgrounds instill youth with civic values or a Chicago architect’s plans to transform a police station into a community center. He persuasively illustrates the vital role these spaces play in repairing civic life.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Eric Klinenberg combines a Jane Jacobs-eye on city life with knowledge of the latest research and practical ideas to address the crucial issues of the day—class division, crime, and climate change. This is a brilliant and important book." (Arlie Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land)

©2018 Eric Klinenberg (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

Palaces for the People - the title is taken from the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s description of the hundreds of libraries he funded - is essentially a calm, lucid exposition of a centuries-old idea, which is really a furious call to action.” (New Statesman)

“If America appears fractured at the national level, the author suggests, it can be mended at the local one. This is an engrossing, timely, hopeful read, nothing less than a new lens through which to view the world and its current conflicts.” (Booklist, starred, review)

“At a time when polarization is weakening our democracy, Eric Klinenberg takes us on a tour of the physical spaces that bind us together and form the basis of civic life. We care about each other because we bump up against one another in a community garden or on the playground or at the library. These are not virtual experiences; they’re real ones, and they’re essential to our future. This wonderful book shows us how democracies thrive.” (Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die)

“Reading Palaces for the People is an amazing experience. As an architect, I know very well the importance of building civic places: concert halls, libraries, museums, universities, public parks, all places open and accessible, where people can get together and share experiences. To create good places for people is essential, and this is what I share with Klinenberg: We both believe that beauty, this kind of beauty, can save the world.” (Renzo Piano)

What members say

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We must act now !

I am inspired to work for our organization to focus on becoming more effective in promoting the environment where sociol infrastructure is created.

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So good

I work in the field of parks and public space and this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Or actually listen to.

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Essential reading

This book should be required reading for all who wish to improve people’s lives, but especially for design professionals and policy makers.