Peter Lovenheim

When was the last time you borrowed a cup of sugar from your next-door neighbors? Do you even know their names? Living in an upstate New York suburb, Peter Lovenheim realized he was comfortably ensconced among total strangers. Shocked by a murder/suicide in a nearby household (they seemed like such a nice couple!), he sets out to meet his neighbors. The result is In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time (Penguin, $19.95, new in paper). Less academic and more random than Robert Putnam's famous Bowling Alone, this book's sociology doesn't quite live up to its premise, but it provides valuable and inspiring example of breaching social barriers. The Internet, work pressures, family commitments.... we've all got a thousand reasons for hunkering down at home and shunning eye contact with those across the driveway (or apartment hallway). But in his thoroughly curious and compassionate account, Lovenheim gets over his own reticence to form new social relationships and bonds. It requires a little effort, he discovers, to get past the front door. But once inside, we humans are intrinsically wired to form new social connections. Our modern isolation is the product of artifice, technology, and real-estate values. Yet Lovenheim shows how the price of a new friendship or acquaintance is completely free. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., April 7, 7 p.m., 2011

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