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The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That's Pulling Apart

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A bold, hopeful, and thought-provoking account by "one of the world's leading thinkers" (The Observer) of how we built a lonely world, how the pandemic accelerated the problem, and what we must do to come together again "A compelling vision for how we can bridge our many divides at this time of great change and disruption."--Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Gl A bold, hopeful, and thought-provoking account by "one of the world's leading thinkers" (The Observer) of how we built a lonely world, how the pandemic accelerated the problem, and what we must do to come together again "A compelling vision for how we can bridge our many divides at this time of great change and disruption."--Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global "An important new book."--The Economist NEXT BIG IDEA CLUB NOMINEE - NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY WIRED (UK) AND THE DAILY TELEGRAPH Loneliness has become the defining condition of the twenty-first century. It is damaging our health, our wealth, and our happiness and even threatening our democracy. Never has it been more pervasive or more widespread, but never has there been more that we can do about it. Even before a global pandemic introduced us to terms like "social distancing," the fabric of community was unraveling and our personal relationships were under threat. And technology isn't the sole culprit. Equally to blame are the dismantling of civic institutions, the radical reorganization of the workplace, the mass migration to cities, and decades of neoliberal policies that have placed self-interest above the collective good. This is not merely a mental health crisis. Loneliness increases our risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Statistically, it's as bad for our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. It's also an economic crisis, costing us billions annually. And it's a political crisis, as feelings of marginalization fuel divisiveness and extremism around the world. But it's also a crisis we have the power to solve. Combining a decade of research with firsthand reporting, Noreena Hertz takes us from a "how to read a face" class at an Ivy League university to isolated remote workers in London during lockdown, from "renting a friend" in Manhattan to nursing home residents knitting bonnets for their robot caregivers in Japan. Offering bold solutions ranging from compassionate AI to innovative models for urban living to new ways of reinvigorating our neighborhoods and reconciling our differences, The Lonely Century offers a hopeful and empowering vision for how to heal our fractured communities and restore connection in our lives.


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A bold, hopeful, and thought-provoking account by "one of the world's leading thinkers" (The Observer) of how we built a lonely world, how the pandemic accelerated the problem, and what we must do to come together again "A compelling vision for how we can bridge our many divides at this time of great change and disruption."--Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Gl A bold, hopeful, and thought-provoking account by "one of the world's leading thinkers" (The Observer) of how we built a lonely world, how the pandemic accelerated the problem, and what we must do to come together again "A compelling vision for how we can bridge our many divides at this time of great change and disruption."--Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global "An important new book."--The Economist NEXT BIG IDEA CLUB NOMINEE - NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY WIRED (UK) AND THE DAILY TELEGRAPH Loneliness has become the defining condition of the twenty-first century. It is damaging our health, our wealth, and our happiness and even threatening our democracy. Never has it been more pervasive or more widespread, but never has there been more that we can do about it. Even before a global pandemic introduced us to terms like "social distancing," the fabric of community was unraveling and our personal relationships were under threat. And technology isn't the sole culprit. Equally to blame are the dismantling of civic institutions, the radical reorganization of the workplace, the mass migration to cities, and decades of neoliberal policies that have placed self-interest above the collective good. This is not merely a mental health crisis. Loneliness increases our risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Statistically, it's as bad for our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. It's also an economic crisis, costing us billions annually. And it's a political crisis, as feelings of marginalization fuel divisiveness and extremism around the world. But it's also a crisis we have the power to solve. Combining a decade of research with firsthand reporting, Noreena Hertz takes us from a "how to read a face" class at an Ivy League university to isolated remote workers in London during lockdown, from "renting a friend" in Manhattan to nursing home residents knitting bonnets for their robot caregivers in Japan. Offering bold solutions ranging from compassionate AI to innovative models for urban living to new ways of reinvigorating our neighborhoods and reconciling our differences, The Lonely Century offers a hopeful and empowering vision for how to heal our fractured communities and restore connection in our lives.

30 review for The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That's Pulling Apart

  1. 4 out of 5

    Megan Eggers

    I picked up this book (free from Netgalley, so take comments with the appropriate grain of salt) because the increased loneliness I’ve seen over the last few months or, lets be honest, decades has been a concern. I’ve seen it in the desperation for human contact shown by the elderly from work, church, and the community. I’ve seen it in the lack of social skills and ability to appropriately interact with the world and the people in it shown by the teens in my community. I’ve seen it in preschoole I picked up this book (free from Netgalley, so take comments with the appropriate grain of salt) because the increased loneliness I’ve seen over the last few months or, lets be honest, decades has been a concern. I’ve seen it in the desperation for human contact shown by the elderly from work, church, and the community. I’ve seen it in the lack of social skills and ability to appropriately interact with the world and the people in it shown by the teens in my community. I’ve seen it in preschoolers begging for attention as their parents stare at their phones in increased obsession…so, does this book solve this problem? I will admit, I just asked an unfair question, the chances of one book solving the habits of decades are so infinitesimally small that they are laughable. However, it is a social ill that author Noreena Hertz attempts to alleviate. Does she always succeed? No, of course not. Does she present her arguments in a cohesive and bipartisan manner? Not always, but the attempt at fairness is there and, as one of the few books I’ve read that faces this problem head on, I do tip my hat to her courage and consideration. Definitely a book to read if you wish to understand more about the loneliness crisis and what the average citizen can do to alleviate it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Monroe

    Far too many of us have experience of working in a toxic workplace. For me, that was an Israeli (later Australian-owned) social games company called Plarium Global. I worked at Plarium's studio in Kharkiv, Ukraine (East Ukraine, about an hour's drive from the Russian border) for four very long years and hated every second of it. Why did I stay? Why does anyone stay in a job they hate? You get used to the standard of living a certain salary can provide and you're afraid that if you leave, you won' Far too many of us have experience of working in a toxic workplace. For me, that was an Israeli (later Australian-owned) social games company called Plarium Global. I worked at Plarium's studio in Kharkiv, Ukraine (East Ukraine, about an hour's drive from the Russian border) for four very long years and hated every second of it. Why did I stay? Why does anyone stay in a job they hate? You get used to the standard of living a certain salary can provide and you're afraid that if you leave, you won't find anything else. But the primary reason I stayed was because I was dating a Ukrainian and, for visa reasons, there was nowhere I could live where she could also live so, as a result, it was best to just stay in Ukraine with my work visa and see where the future would take us. Plarium was modeled off of one of these Silicon Valley tech companies like Google or Facebook. LOTS of emphasis on the various amenities they offered — a ping pong table! a gym! a game room! The point is, the entire studio was designed on making the company's workers stay at work longer. It's a clever tool of modern capitalism, getting you to stay in the office longer by making you think that you like the office. And many of them did, I don't want to take anything away from the fact that many of those who worked and still work there did so happily and willingly. It's a sort of capitalistic Stockholm Syndrome, you fall in love with a system that will dispose of you the second you cease to be useful to its bottom line. If you come in an hour early, we'll give you free breakfast! If you stay a couple hours late, we're putting on a free concert! Game tournament tonight with the team leads! Don't forget, Friday night's movie night! But behind this whole fun, social facade lay a cruel reality. Most people stayed to themselves. Yes, they'd show up to get breakfast an hour early, but rather than eat in the common room with someone new, they'd all-too-often take a plate of food back to their desk and sit alone. Cliques developed, an insider-outsider vibe that permeated throughout the entire company, from management on down. And the benefits? Yes, our studio has a slide connecting two floors, in case you ever tire of taking the stairs or elevator, but don't expect to be given health insurance! A retirement plan? What's that? And within each department, even crueler realities awaited. In my former department — which was, naturally, the English Creative Department — employees were heavily pressured to contribute to the company's various charitable functions. The company participated in a Christmas drive for area orphanages, and if you failed to "adopt an orphan" you would be hounded, given the silent treatment, and basically treated like a terrible person. It wasn't enough to just give money either, you had to go to the store and actually buy something, which then had to be approved by your coworkers. In 2018, shortly before I left, there was a charity drive to send a local Ukrainian boy who'd received some fame on TV as a chess prodigy of sorts to Spain so he could compete in a tournament. Those in my department were heavily pressured to participate, and when I expressed some hesitation about doing so, it was remarked that I was "cheap" and not a "team player." In addition, anyone who left right when the clock sounded to go home was spoken of as being insufficiently dedicated to the company. A colleague at the time actually came down with health problems as a result of the constant guilt she was made to feel for not attending after work functions. On a number of occasions over the four years that I worked there I was told by my team lead that something I had worked on was "shit" and verbally berated by him and others in the department if I failed to think of a decent concept for a holiday theme or something else. And the list goes on. Finally, I'd had enough. I put in my notice to leave after three months (in order for the department to find a suitable replacement) and, less than a month later, I found myself called into my boss' office. The weekend before, I'd written a blog post about leaving Denmark (where I had spent a week vacationing) to travel back to Ukraine. I called it "Leaving Civilization" and throughout used a somewhat jokey tone, contrasting Denmark with Ukraine and remaking wryly that the many Ukrainians who had left to find work in Western Europe might be onto something. Nowhere did I mention the company or any people I knew or worked with. But, nevertheless, I had insulted the country and amidst the atmosphere of heightened, faux nationalism that had raged in Ukraine following Russia's seizure of the Crimean peninsula, I had shown myself to be insufficiently loyal to the country. Many on the Ukrainian localization team that we worked with reportedly refused to work with me any longer, and my coworkers, already miffed that I was refusing to donate to send the chess prodigy to Spain, were eager to see me off as well. So I was dismissed, in no uncertain terms, a bit over a month before I was originally due to leave, in good standing, with promised references to boot, only to now be sent off with nary a smile. I wasn't even allowed to take the slide on my way out. In the two and a half years that have since passed, I have come to be thankful for how things ended, the bridges that needed to be burned between myself an absolutely toxic work environment. It was only while reading Noreena Hertz's fascinating account of work in the 21st century that I was reminded once again of all those once common day realities. This is a book that cuts to the quick of what ails the world, particularly the western world, today. In a society so focused on increasing profits, it seems we are isolating ourselves from our common man. I'm one of those "digital nomads" now, having shirked the office life well before the pandemic made doing so a necessity. I work from home, often writing book reviews when I'm not working. There's no slide, no ping pong table, but — with friends and family closer at hand — I find the environment to be much less toxic. Even now, working from home in the midst of a pandemic, I find my isolation and anxiety to have been significantly lessened.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matty

    This book feels so perfectly timed, particularly during a global pandemic! A call to arms to stop being so insular & self-serving and think more about our connections to community & society. This book was really thought-provoking & filled with loads of really interesting stories & case studies to help the author make her overall point. Definitely made me think about how lonely we are all making ourselves in this modern age!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Max Bridger

    I really enjoyed this book as I have an interest in both my local community, and older peoples' want for the past and specifically the 'good old days'. The Lonely Century is full of amazing, shocking and sometimes unbelievable facts, and due to this just under half the book is references! But the content is still plentiful and more than sufficient to detail the ways in which community has been eroded Worldwide in the last 50 years, and the issues this is presenting for us all. Noreena also details I really enjoyed this book as I have an interest in both my local community, and older peoples' want for the past and specifically the 'good old days'. The Lonely Century is full of amazing, shocking and sometimes unbelievable facts, and due to this just under half the book is references! But the content is still plentiful and more than sufficient to detail the ways in which community has been eroded Worldwide in the last 50 years, and the issues this is presenting for us all. Noreena also details ways she feels would be fitting to combat this pandemic of isolation, as well as highlighting successful efforts from people, governments and some businesses (like Cisco) to revitalise community spirit and genuine interactions. So although some of the reading is quite depressing, it also serves as a manual of ideas to help us come back together, in an age where social media and neoliberal policies have been increasingly pulling us apart.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Myles

    In her recent new book on the epidemic of loneliness afflicting society in the 21st century, “The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World that’s Falling Apart” scholar and commentator Noreen Hertz surveys the trends that alienate us from our neighbours and loved ones. They include: - The pace of modern urban life - Convenience and contactless shopping - Screen addiction, more specifically the screens of our cellphones - Trends in work environment - The gig economy - Automated assista In her recent new book on the epidemic of loneliness afflicting society in the 21st century, “The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World that’s Falling Apart” scholar and commentator Noreen Hertz surveys the trends that alienate us from our neighbours and loved ones. They include: - The pace of modern urban life - Convenience and contactless shopping - Screen addiction, more specifically the screens of our cellphones - Trends in work environment - The gig economy - Automated assistants, robots, and sex appliances - The rapid decline of neighbourhood stores and social clubs Little of this I hadn’t read elsewhere, but some of these subjects I continue to give some thought to, particularly the closing of independent retailers along the main streets of city neighbourhoods. I think about it because I own businesses on main streets in city neighbourhoods. Here is how Hertz sees it: “If we are to feel part of a community rather than simply live in isolated bubbles we must appreciate the role local entrepreneurs play in binding us together.” What exactly is the role entrepreneurs — and by this I think she means independent retail operators — play in binding us together that local schools, churches, parks, street festivals, local elections, charity events, sports clubs, and the bus stop don’t already accomplish? What I see is that local business complements things that are already happening: - We congregate at the local grocery store, the hair salon, the yoga studio, the veterinarian, and the dentists’ offices much as we do at the schoolyard or hockey arena. - We run for expertise to the local hardware store, the computer store, the local bank branch, and the shoe repair centre. - We get away from ourselves at the fashion store, the furniture outlet, and the private gym. Many of these goods and services can be filled by franchises of national or international brands like Starbucks. It looks like they will be part of neighbourhoods for the foreseeable future. The kinds of businesses Hertz idealizes are the neighbourhood restaurants, the old fashioned shoe shops, clothing stores, and ice cream parlours. We know from our experience that high commercial rents, property taxes, competition from online retailers, suburban malls and supercentre outlets, and the aging of our population all contribute to the decline of commerce on our main streets. Now, here are some of the trends I see that you, perhaps, don’t: - The sky-high expectations of consumers. Big box has taught consumers to expect perfect satisfaction, open-ended timelines and conditions for returning unsatisfactory merchandise, and open-ended customer service to explain, dissect, and support customer choice. - The proliferation of communications media. Today business is bombarded not only by the demands of customers in person or over the telephone, but through texting, e-mail, facebook, instagram, google, and innumerable other communications media. Keeping up with these media is costly and not always resulting in a net contribution to the business. - The expectations of employees. Especially young employees see the dollar wage as the be all and end-all of their compensation. Many businesses — the gig economy businesses excepted — pay up to six or eight government mandated benefits to their employees that nobody counts. People have a right to expect a liveable wage, but what constitutes a liveable wage may not jibe with what is probable in the real world of competition, and the pressure of overheads in the urban retail environment. - The pressure on prices of online merchants worldwide and the pressure of infinite choice that no local merchant can possibly replicate. - Brand loyalty. The preference consumers give to accepted international brands over niche or local brands. By and large customers have little time to make a purchase decision in the midst of wide choice, limited resources, and limited attention span. The decision which requires the least energy and evaluation is often the handiest. No merchant can be ignorant of the pull of brands. The other side of this formula is that along with the huge pull of the brand comes the public information about how much those products should cost, a price widely known and immoveable in the customer’s eye. Independent merchants are flirting with disaster if the public perceives him/her to be above Internet pricing. - Financial service charges. Credit card companies have brainwashed customers into believing there is a game to be won with credit card points, cards that cost merchants anywhere from 2% to 6% of the gross value of receipts. Take that off the top of 95% of the merchant sales. - Rationalization of logistics and the supply chain. Premium products simply do not appear in the marketplace unless mass merchants will it to be there. Much as independents complain of the pull of the national merchants, many of the products they would like to sell wouldn’t appear in their regional market unless the large merchants order pallets of those products. The manufacturers don’t like to ship less than pallets and the distributors don’t like to break open pallets. And neither want to see returns of defectives or open packages. In this system it is brutally difficult for independents to consistently stock products people actually want to buy. The manufacturers know this. They prefer the largest dealers not necessarily because they sell more (per sq.ft. of retail space) but because the larger dealers share the warehousing costs and financing of products that will ultimately be discounted. Or, worse, sent to landfill. - Constraints of working capital. In an ideal world, merchants earn enough profit on goods and services and don’t make costly mistakes. They know what the customer wants and sells it to them. Goods sell and the cash available to the merchant grows consistently and predictably. But in the real world, we make mistakes. We pay too much for rent, or we buy stuff people don’t want, or a competitor comes along and discounts our most profitable item. Losses eat away at our working capital. - Gentrification. Rising housing costs and the loss of affordable rentals make it difficult for all businesses to hire people who live near their place of work. The fewer locals there are who work in these stores, the less accountable these stores are to their neighbours. And where do you go when working capital shrinks? When I ran a very small business it was relatively easy to hide minor mistakes by using a credit card to fill a hole in cash flow. You can’t do this for very long if you have a larger business with many employees, leases, and taxes to pay. There is less and less slack in the system to make up when things go sour. Independents with no personal capital or resources — such as equity in a home — have almost nowhere to go. With all respect to people who want independent business to survive, they must understand that these are factors upon which independents have no control. Let me say this again, only more clearly: THE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT IS SAVAGE, UNFORGIVING, AND LARGELY OUTSIDE OF ANYBODY’S CONTROL. And not all entrepreneurs are on the main streets. People run boutique businesses from their homes and use the big subsidy of low residential taxes and “contractors” to make a go of it. Add on top of this the conditions of a pandemic and you have a recipe of disaster for most independent businesses. Will tax subsidies fix this? I’m not convinced. Employment programs? Too short term. Will local residents vote in town councillors who will raise taxes high enough to reduce the tax burden on independent business? Not in my lifetime. Some of the measures I think could help independents in the medium term: - Credit merchants for merchant fees paid on value added taxes. - Encourage big business to patronize local independents - Educate parents on what it means when they prey on local businesses to subsidize boutique charities like school fundraisers. I have heard some parents go so far as to blacklist uncooperative local businesses. - Reward customers for good behaviour not for purchasing behaviour - Charge online buyers for the additional overhead on those extra courier trips on our public streets - Make all employers pay employment taxes or none of us, but don’t penalize merchants who under tax law must define employees as such - Increase neighbourhood security and make it safer for our people to work in stores - Re-educate employees on the meaning of their pay packages All of this should not minimize the fact that not everybody who considers them self an entrepreneur is really cut out for it. Success in business is a fleeting thing. There never has nor ever will be a guarantee of success. It takes knowledge, skill, daring, perseverance, working capital, and a willingness to lose. Then more than a little good fortune. Lastly, good businesses have found ways to routinize winning transactions, not the one offs, not the home runs, but many boring transactions over the long term. There is a role for independent retailer in the neighbourhood landscape, but it will never succeed without the cooperation of the transnationals, not in this environment. We need the cooperation of big businesses to make little business survive in this environment. This combination of market forces will if not rejuvenate neighbourhoods, help keep them going.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steffi

    I loved this book. Thought provoking and interesting the whole way through. Reading this book has led me to put my phone down more and connect with those around me. Would definitely recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dramatika

    A fine start but such a horrible finish! Mandatory civil participation? Really? My parents actually went theough such horrors in Soviet times, never again! I vaccinated for all such forced cheerfullness of mandatory collective for my life! The author might benefit from learning a few facts of how such mandatory staff works.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    Very well-researched and written. Loneliness is a massive issue in today's society, and it has grown dramatically especially with Covid19. It's not the kind of book that I would normally read, but I had to for work and I'm happy I did. Her solutions at the end are just a bit utopian in my opinion... Very well-researched and written. Loneliness is a massive issue in today's society, and it has grown dramatically especially with Covid19. It's not the kind of book that I would normally read, but I had to for work and I'm happy I did. Her solutions at the end are just a bit utopian in my opinion...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Readers may remember that the recent Adelaide Writers Week program featured a session with the economist Noreena Hertz, discussing her book The Lonely Century and I reported on the session here.  It was such an interesting session that I reserved the book at the library and have just finished reading it. Having 'attended' the session, I was familiar with the theme of the book and the propositions that it makes, and I won't revisit that now since you can read my report, but the book was worth read Readers may remember that the recent Adelaide Writers Week program featured a session with the economist Noreena Hertz, discussing her book The Lonely Century and I reported on the session here.  It was such an interesting session that I reserved the book at the library and have just finished reading it. Having 'attended' the session, I was familiar with the theme of the book and the propositions that it makes, and I won't revisit that now since you can read my report, but the book was worth reading in its entirety for the additional detail.  It confirms that the book is not a piece of 'pop' psychology— it's meticulously researched and cogently argued, and it also revealed to me that some of the more alarming manifestations of loneliness are not, as I had thought,  projections into the future, but are happening now.  In addition to the worrying connections between political extremism, conspiracy theories and loneliness, there's discussion of research that shows that people are more aggressive and hostile when they are lonely because they put up a protective shell that denies the need for human warmth and company.  What is most troubling about this, is that the same research shows that visual cortex of these people is stimulated by the suffering of others.  They react to suffering more quickly, but with attention, not with compassion.  So next time the media reports on some unconscionable crime committed against a helpless victim, and you wonder as I have how could they do such a thing? consider that the offender's brain doesn't work the way that mine and yours does. Not every lonely person, of course, is an affront to our sense of common decency.  The Lonely Century offers more detail about the economic costs of loneliness (billions) because of its demonstrable impact on health and wellbeing. What the book suggests is that our response to this should be to make renewed efforts to connect with the people around us. The lonely mind acts in self-preservation, on the alert for threats rather than trying to see things from others' point-of-view.  It also affects how we categorise the world: lonely people see the neighbourhood as unfriendly whereas the non-lonely in the same neighbourhood don't.  When lonely people see their environment as threatening and non-caring, they have diminished empathy. That's bad for democracy because democracy requires that different views be reconciled as it tries to meet the needs of all citizens.  Democracy needs people to be connected to the state and to each other. When these bonds of connectivity break down; when people feel they can't trust or rely upon each other and are disconnected, whether emotionally, economically, socially or culturally; when people don't believe the state is looking out for them and feel marginalised or abandoned, not only does society fracture and polarise, but people lose faith in politics itself. (p.35) Hertz has more to say about how neo-liberalism and the mantras of 'every man for himself' have contributed to the loneliness problem that we have.  But it derives from a perfect storm of causes, not just economic but also cultural, societal, and technological.  There's a chapter about 'solutions' which use technology but mostly, they made me feel ill.  I remember when there were proposals to use robots to deliver meals in Australian aged care homes and there was outrage because people understood that for residents too frail to join others in the dining room, that person-to-person contact with a human being was crucial to mitigate the loneliness of their days.  So how do we feel about a Japanese trial of a robot friend (in concept, not unlike the one in Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun ) to help solve the loneliness problem of its elderly people?  (Japan has the world's oldest population).  The PaPeRo (partner-type personal robot) uses facial recognition technology to interact with humans, and offers greetings and reminders and makes expressive gestures.  (You can see a video of how it works here). When I think of the world's refugee problem, I can't help but think that Japan would do better to open its ultra-restrictive immigration policy and bring young people in to solve their problem instead of wasting money and expertise on a solution as cruel and heartless as this. And if you think this is bizarre, the top-of-the-range sex robots apparently lead the way... (*chuckle* No, I did not do a Google search to find one!) To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2021/04/07/t...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lada

    The book weaves a narrative with statistics and anecdotes designed to support the author's arguments, whether that it is capitalism's fault, or social media's fault etc. However, for all the blame that is thrown around, there is a glaring omission of the most obvious culprit -- people's reduced dependence on each other for things other than social/emotional support. For me the most eye-opening study was Banerjee et al., "Changes in Social Network Structure in Response to Exposure to Formal Credi The book weaves a narrative with statistics and anecdotes designed to support the author's arguments, whether that it is capitalism's fault, or social media's fault etc. However, for all the blame that is thrown around, there is a glaring omission of the most obvious culprit -- people's reduced dependence on each other for things other than social/emotional support. For me the most eye-opening study was Banerjee et al., "Changes in Social Network Structure in Response to Exposure to Formal Credit Markets," describing how in a natural experiment, villages in India exposed to microfinance showed a reduction in social ties, even among households unlikely to borrow. Why were people hanging out in the village square talking to each other? It seems that in some part at least it was because it was not just a social network, but also an informal network of credit, at least for some. Thinking now to our modern lives: why would we ask a neighbor for a cup of sugar when we can easily go the grocery store (proximate in urban areas) or even when we can get it delivered. Lots of information is available online. We may not need to ask our uncle for that recipe, or our scholar-aunt some period in history, because we can look a lot of stuff up. The author hints that social relationships are work, and they are! Part of the reward, besides the enjoyment of one another's company, and the expectation of reciprocity, is that these are people whom one could rely on for e.g. a ride to the airport (but now there are ride sharing apps), recommendations (now there's Yelp and product reviews) or a small loan (now there are credit cards...), etc. etc. Beyond friends one would choose, perhaps one was also friendly with many others because there was a possibility that at some point one might need to rely on them for a service or favor. Big concerts and pie shops are nice because they provide community for people who are there to enjoy themselves. But if friendship and socializing is reduced to joint enjoyment, it is a much reduced space than the role that they used to play. Without considering this crucial aspect of social relationships, the books seems incomplete, both in diagnosing the roots of loneliness and in providing solutions. Some, like community service, civic participation or co-op arrangements that share responsibilities go a ways toward this, but one could do even better by thinking of new ways that social ties and communities can exchange benefit beyond providing companionship. With maybe many of our material and practical needs for the most part taken care of by optimized, large-scale systems, how can we invest our energy and build our networks to become important in new joint endeavors?

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ben Ballin

    This is a significant and compelling book, written in an accessible journalistic style, which deserves a very wide readership in these socially-distanced times. Hertz describes en endemic global crisis of loneliness in all its forms. This is not only making people unhappy but physically ill, even leading to premature mortality. This is both an individual and a social malaise: she convincingly demonstrates that the most lonely people are also those most likely to support populist demagogues from t This is a significant and compelling book, written in an accessible journalistic style, which deserves a very wide readership in these socially-distanced times. Hertz describes en endemic global crisis of loneliness in all its forms. This is not only making people unhappy but physically ill, even leading to premature mortality. This is both an individual and a social malaise: she convincingly demonstrates that the most lonely people are also those most likely to support populist demagogues from the far right. Studded with copious examples, and using a prodigious array of footnotes, she illustrates the many and often heartbreaking forms of loneliness: the remotely-scrutinised online worker, the Japanese women who choose prison over isolation, robot companions, the multiple paradoxes of connectedness via social media. Her final chapter sums up the state of affairs thus: "Loneliness is not just a subjective state of mind. It is also a collective state of being that's taking a huge toll on us as individuals and on society as a whole, contributing to the deaths of millions of people annually, costing the global economy billions and posing a potent threat to tolerant and inclusive democracy." While not evading personal and community responsibilities, she locates the root cause of this disease in "a particular political project - neoliberal capitalism." I find myself nodding in agreement. Her solution however is "reconnecting capitalism with care and compassion": a sort of third-way "new deal for loneliness." Towards this, she proposes a series of often practical measures, such as robot taxes, restraints on the activities of social media giants, shopping locally more often, being kind to others. It is hard to disagree with these, but to my mind they are necessary but insufficient. As those great past documenters of loneliness remind us - Marx (alienation), Durkheim (anomie), Debord (separation perfected) - social disconnectedness is at the heart of the capitalist (and not just the neoliberal) endeavour, which ultimately and consistently subordinates society and community to the demands of the economy. In that sense, while Hertz's book is well-argued, brilliantly-evidenced and highly-convincing about the problem, I think it needs to take a step further in the solutions it proposes: not so much the adjustment and reconnection of capitalism to human values, but the development of its antithesis, where the economic sphere is subordinate to social (and indeed environmental) needs.

  12. 4 out of 5

    SuzAnne

    This was an eye-opener. Not having experienced much loneliness on a personal, work or community level, I wasn't sure of what people were getting at when saying we are more disconnected than ever in this century. However, the last third of the book contains her footnotes and there is certainly enough research out there to support the premise. A couple of chapters are really interesting: "Alone at the Office" is not an issue I've dealt with (indeed, I spend most of my day talking to people: client This was an eye-opener. Not having experienced much loneliness on a personal, work or community level, I wasn't sure of what people were getting at when saying we are more disconnected than ever in this century. However, the last third of the book contains her footnotes and there is certainly enough research out there to support the premise. A couple of chapters are really interesting: "Alone at the Office" is not an issue I've dealt with (indeed, I spend most of my day talking to people: clients; colleagues, support networks and managers so a day "alone at the office" appeals greatly), however Hertz uncovers how hot-desking, remote working and the lack of "water cooler conversations" has led to a huge disconnect between co-workers who are in each others presence every day but prefer to email rather than talk face-to-face. The saddest sentence of all was about a guy who was very ill and absent from his open-plan office yet no one even noticed he wasn't there. "Sex, Love and Robots" was all about a world of the future, one which already exists for some of us. She opens the chapter with an anecdote about a lonely city dweller who prefers paid services like "rent a friend" rather then taking a chance on a real relationship via online dating. Hertz goes on to explain how current users of robots are already prone to anthropomorphizing the devices, perhaps, she indirectly suggests, in an effort to add a human dimension. Apparently elderly Japanese women knit little bonnets for their robot caregivers, and families often given their remote vacuum a name. You might say that's nothing new: many of us have named some inanimate object in our lives for fun, but Hertz shows how attached people are becoming to some devices and she provides an instance where consumers would rather wait for their existing (and named) Roomba to be repaired than have it replaced immediately by an entirely new cleaner. All this got me thinking about C3PO and Eleanor Rigby. Where do "All the Lonely People" come from? It seems they are coming from everywhere. Hertz does conclude with suggestions to fix the dilemma we face but I'm not entirely convinced they'll take. 4/5 stars

  13. 5 out of 5

    Prakhar Ganesh

    [4] Noreena Hertz defines loneliness as the feeling of not being heard. While most of us consider this only in context of not being heard by friends, family and people around us, the author takes it a step further and connects loneliness to the feeling of not being heard by the community, by our employer, by our leaders, by our government, etc. Once you start viewing loneliness under this wider umbrella, certain pattern start emerging. Noreena Hertz explores the inherent loneliness in the societal [4] Noreena Hertz defines loneliness as the feeling of not being heard. While most of us consider this only in context of not being heard by friends, family and people around us, the author takes it a step further and connects loneliness to the feeling of not being heard by the community, by our employer, by our leaders, by our government, etc. Once you start viewing loneliness under this wider umbrella, certain pattern start emerging. Noreena Hertz explores the inherent loneliness in the societal structures of the 21st century, the usual culprits, and its adverse effects. The author talks about how inherently flawed our 'city' is and how it contributes to our loneliness. She discusses the new patterns emerging in office spaces, the advancements in tech which have made us all crawl further back inside our shells, and the so-called loneliness economy which benefits from it all. The author doesn't just make empty claims, but instead cites a large number of studies, real life examples, interviews and experiences to convince us of the dire state of the world. Almost every chapter in the book, as well as the whole book itself, ends in a positive note, with the author guiding us towards possible solutions which will require, as she puts it, both bottoms-up and top-down solutions working in unison. We as individuals need to understand the importance of community and unglue our eyes from our phones, while the government needs to put in regulatory laws in practice to incentivize companies to take care of their employees instead of focusing on short term profits. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to truly understand the impact of the fast paced changes in our life today.

  14. 5 out of 5

    smalltownbookmom

    I really enjoyed this book that examines the ways that we as a society have been moving away from caring and connection over the last several decades, a problem that has only been further exacerbated during the recent COVID pandemic. She warns that the long-term implications of forced isolation on people's mental health may be long lasting and we need to see the corona virus as an opportunity to develop new structures and ways of behavior that will enable us to help create a cultural shift that I really enjoyed this book that examines the ways that we as a society have been moving away from caring and connection over the last several decades, a problem that has only been further exacerbated during the recent COVID pandemic. She warns that the long-term implications of forced isolation on people's mental health may be long lasting and we need to see the corona virus as an opportunity to develop new structures and ways of behavior that will enable us to help create a cultural shift that values greater care, kindness and compassion. My favorite chapter was on being alone at the office and how there has been a growing feeling of loneliness and discontent among workers as workplaces shift towards more remote work, with less and less in-person interactions - something that has only been furthered during the pandemic as so many have pivoted to working from home and Zoom meetings. According to Hertz: "Loneliness is not just a subjective state of mind. It is also a collective state of being that's taking a huge toll on us as individuals and on society as a whole, contributing to the death of millions of people annually, costing the global economy billions and posing a potent threat to tolerant inclusive democracy." The book does end on a hopeful note, with suggestions for both governments and individuals as well as examples of what some countries and people are already doing to try to create stronger communities and greater connections (the major thing we as individuals need to grapple with being our obsession with devices and finding ways to limit screen time in favor of greater actual human connections). Highly recommend this book for anyone feeling alone or searching for great connection in our increasingly digital world!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris Boutté

    Before I dive into the review, I think it's important that I qualify myself. I'm an introverted millennial, and had it not been for technology like AOL Instant Messenger and social media apps in the following years, I wouldn't have nearly as many connections as I have now. The ability to connect through technology was huge in my life, so I'm always skeptical about books like this that discuss the loneliness epidemic. But as a mental health advocate and recovering drug addict, I know that we have Before I dive into the review, I think it's important that I qualify myself. I'm an introverted millennial, and had it not been for technology like AOL Instant Messenger and social media apps in the following years, I wouldn't have nearly as many connections as I have now. The ability to connect through technology was huge in my life, so I'm always skeptical about books like this that discuss the loneliness epidemic. But as a mental health advocate and recovering drug addict, I know that we have a mental health crisis, and deaths of despair are on the rise. As I talk with people, I see that loneliness is a major source of our problems, so I try to keep an open mind going into books like this one from Noreena Hertz.  With that being said, this book from Noreena Hertz was absolutely phenomenal. I'm always concerned that authors of these books are going to demonize technology, but Hertz didn't do that. Throughout the book, Hertz did an excellent job backing her arguments with research and empathy while also pointing out the issues we face as a society. Aside from discussing some of the problems with technology, she dove into topics such as political polarization and the rise of AI, and I learned a ton. Best of all, her closing chapter provides a wide range of solutions. Although I definitely agree with her solutions, I can see how some would disagree with that type of government paternalism. But as someone who loves the work of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, I think these solutions could work. So definitely grab a copy of this book, and I'd love to know your thoughts.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Leo Hui

    One line summary: A brilliant capture of loneliness on an individual level and societal level. How loneliness arise, it's impact and and how this can be combated by individuals, companies, communities and governments. This is my first book review. I decided to write this not only because this book deserves to be read for its brilliance, but loneliness deserves more attention. It's not the silver bullet to all the problems in our society; political division, clash of values, inequality, climate et One line summary: A brilliant capture of loneliness on an individual level and societal level. How loneliness arise, it's impact and and how this can be combated by individuals, companies, communities and governments. This is my first book review. I decided to write this not only because this book deserves to be read for its brilliance, but loneliness deserves more attention. It's not the silver bullet to all the problems in our society; political division, clash of values, inequality, climate etc... but reducing loneliness, showing more care towards others and re-establishing that human to human connection is going to alleviate some of that tension and allow hope to creep back in. After reading this book, I have become more open to conversations to strangers. One week into reading this book, a stranger came up to me in the park while I was working out and we talked for an hour just like that. We didn't stay in touch, but that hour long conversation changed my mood for the day. It felt great to be able to talk and share views with a total stranger. Today I acted as the initiator of a conversation, exchanging views on running form whilst I was biking next to a guy running in good form. It was just a 5 mins chat, but it felt great to connect. Without reading this book, it would never have come across to me how we can all strike up these mini-interactions and simply being more aware of people around us. Happy reading. Stay safe, stay sane and stay compassionate!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leon Fairley

    This book depressed me. I knew before the pandemic that I was mildly lonely. I suspect most introverts/shy folks are. I have a large group of acquaintances and some work colleagues that stave the loneliness off for the most part. Keeping me from being clinically lonely. This book opens with the science of loneliness and the chemical soup in our brains: loneliness and how this chemistry is out of balance. Long-term imbalances have measurable health (mental and physical) impacts. The arguments get This book depressed me. I knew before the pandemic that I was mildly lonely. I suspect most introverts/shy folks are. I have a large group of acquaintances and some work colleagues that stave the loneliness off for the most part. Keeping me from being clinically lonely. This book opens with the science of loneliness and the chemical soup in our brains: loneliness and how this chemistry is out of balance. Long-term imbalances have measurable health (mental and physical) impacts. The arguments get a bit stretched because they do not draw from the discussion back to measurable loneliness. There is a discussion of the rise of neoliberalism with Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s and the transition from We The People to me, the person. The author builds on this as a driver toward increasing levels of loneliness around the globe. The argument against our present use of smart devices and always on lives likewise refers back to loneliness at the end but is mostly an argument against the isolating, demoralizing, and denigrating culture that has arisen from me generation neoliberalism. The book's final chapter is a call to action of steps that we can take to slow, stop, and reverse the epidemic of loneliness that is visible in all cultures and all countries. As I said at the beginning, this book took my mild loneliness. It exacerbated it with a heavy dose of bad news, conclusions, and a call to action that feels very unrealistic in a neoliberal world.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Doreen Blair

    THE LONELY CENTURY-Noreena Hertz I received this free for the purpose of review. While Ms. Hertz title is intriguing the contents of the book doesn't fill you with sweetness. Due to the electronics we now have from phones, iPads, computers, VR games, Xbox, and those are just the ones our family owns we are slowly becoming a society of people that do not know how to communicate nor do they want to try. Small things like answering the phone or making a call for an appointment is quickly becoming obso THE LONELY CENTURY-Noreena Hertz I received this free for the purpose of review. While Ms. Hertz title is intriguing the contents of the book doesn't fill you with sweetness. Due to the electronics we now have from phones, iPads, computers, VR games, Xbox, and those are just the ones our family owns we are slowly becoming a society of people that do not know how to communicate nor do they want to try. Small things like answering the phone or making a call for an appointment is quickly becoming obsolete. The result: loneliness, fear, creativity, friendliness and most importantly relationships are all suffering. COVID has simply exacerbated the problem. With people locked down due by government regulations first and then masks worn, individuals and families are becoming increasingly dependent on electronics which leaves them more and more on their electronics. One real danger is in the job market where robots are replacing people and making the economy weaken because of loss of jobs. Robots from working on an assembly line to personal care robots. As I read this book it became clear that individuals must set a boundary on themselves. The world we are living in will need to value family, people and stick with it. What have we become??????Value people not items, relationships are what makes for true joy. Beware of TOO MUCH screen time.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe Bathelt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In this book, the author paints a disturbing picture of how we have collectively grown more and more isolated. As the book highlights, this can not be reduced to any one factor but is caused by multiple influences ranging from our appropriate fear of infection in recent months, our preference to stay in the bubbles created by our digital devices, to political forces that shape our lifestyle like increasing housing prices that force people to move more often. At times, this makes for uncomfortabl In this book, the author paints a disturbing picture of how we have collectively grown more and more isolated. As the book highlights, this can not be reduced to any one factor but is caused by multiple influences ranging from our appropriate fear of infection in recent months, our preference to stay in the bubbles created by our digital devices, to political forces that shape our lifestyle like increasing housing prices that force people to move more often. At times, this makes for uncomfortable reading. However, the author tries to highlight possible ways to tackle the problem through political change and the contribution of each person to rethink their behaviour towards others. The book is peppered with memorable highlights from research to illustrate each point. For instance, an image the stuck with me is that cities use pink lights that accentuates uneven skin to prevent teenagers from loitering. I most enjoyed the first half of the book that discussed the problem of loneliness in detail. The second half felt a bit too political to me and I would have liked the author to stick more closely to science writing. However, it provided me with a different perspective on these issues that I may not have considered if it was not prominently featured. Altogether, this is a well-researched, well-written, and up-to-the-minute book that everyone should read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Esi_70

    This is a very brave book, but maybe not so much coming from an author who seems to be part of the elite, and coming from that place it may not be so courageous to talk about the most stigmatized mental health problem in our society. Anyway, it is a great development and long overdue that someone has been able to do it so assertively. Thinking about this, she does approach this problem from the angle of groups and individuals feeling lonely and marginalised because the government and mainstream s This is a very brave book, but maybe not so much coming from an author who seems to be part of the elite, and coming from that place it may not be so courageous to talk about the most stigmatized mental health problem in our society. Anyway, it is a great development and long overdue that someone has been able to do it so assertively. Thinking about this, she does approach this problem from the angle of groups and individuals feeling lonely and marginalised because the government and mainstream society don't speak and care for them which is very welcome. The book is pretty good, but I had already read about some of the issues she refers to and I'm not clear about what she advocates for in the chapter relating to the great work community small business are doing to remedy loneliness. In my opinion, the public sector should be the main organisation that takes care of the community, where non profit is the norm and where the main responsibility should lay on. However, it only makes sense that small and big business are involved in this too honestly.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shanna

    ~40% of the pages are the bibliography, which I like because it means A) well researched and B) I'm usually done sooner than expected. I really liked the discussion about "satisfactory" feeling of connection from robots / social media / working & living close to people vs. real loneliness busters like having a support network of friends and neighbors to call upon when you really need to because you've invested in the social web with real effort. Because of this book I've reached out to people a ~40% of the pages are the bibliography, which I like because it means A) well researched and B) I'm usually done sooner than expected. I really liked the discussion about "satisfactory" feeling of connection from robots / social media / working & living close to people vs. real loneliness busters like having a support network of friends and neighbors to call upon when you really need to because you've invested in the social web with real effort. Because of this book I've reached out to people a lot more, stopped and talked to neighbors more, talked to parents at kids activities more, etc. I also REALLY appreciated the statistics on overworking and fatigue worldwide. Which strangely made me feel less alone in my struggle to keep up with work commitments and family. It also helped me feel less guilty for not working every weekend to catch up/get ahead. I appreciated how she connected civic engagement and democracy and our current political climate too.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elle

    What an eye-opening book that went into a lot of detail about how and why our world is pulling apart. This book was recommended to me by a close friend after discussing my observations about people living in a superficial world who are displaying narcissistic-type attitudes and behaviours. Then I had the pleasure of listening to Noreena Hertz at the Adelaide writers festival albeit virtually. I found it unbelievable and quite disturbing that singles eat their meals while watching someone eat (on What an eye-opening book that went into a lot of detail about how and why our world is pulling apart. This book was recommended to me by a close friend after discussing my observations about people living in a superficial world who are displaying narcissistic-type attitudes and behaviours. Then I had the pleasure of listening to Noreena Hertz at the Adelaide writers festival albeit virtually. I found it unbelievable and quite disturbing that singles eat their meals while watching someone eat (online) and pay for the privilege and machines are interviewing people for jobs. Sadly, not surprising was the devastating effects open-plan offices have as open-plan classrooms have been used, discarded and now brought back again (WTH!) to our schools.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Highly applicable and relevant. The Lonely Century is an essential book for our time, covering a wide range of topics to do with 'loneliness.' Topics include: the chemical presence of loneliness in the body, solo living, social comparison, and the social media experience to sell one's self and the constant fear no one will buy, how open-plan offices can impact how connected or disconnected we feel (and can be alienating,) and the pros and cons of our reliance of robots and artificial intelligence Highly applicable and relevant. The Lonely Century is an essential book for our time, covering a wide range of topics to do with 'loneliness.' Topics include: the chemical presence of loneliness in the body, solo living, social comparison, and the social media experience to sell one's self and the constant fear no one will buy, how open-plan offices can impact how connected or disconnected we feel (and can be alienating,) and the pros and cons of our reliance of robots and artificial intelligence. There are many more subjects covered in this book, but the ones I listed are just some examples and areas I found most engaging and memorable. I hadn't thought of or considered many parts, and my perception has widened and been intrigued. This book feels well-timed, particularly during the pandemic we're living in and as a woman who lives on her own independently. It was well-put that not everyone living alone is lonely. Living alone can provide an impetus to interact that those living with others don't necessarily have. Furthermore, living with someone is no guarantee of meaningful companionship, which with feeling trapped or neglected or without meaningful togetherness can make one feel extremely lonely and isolated. Overall, the book examines how society has been moving away from connections, which have worsened over the past years. A Lonely Century is both insightful and an eye-opener. So, grab a copy of this book and check it out.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julian Walker

    Apart from a slightly preachy bit about right wing politics in the middle (which is in fact completely justified, but to me only made more sense as I got a fuller picture towards the end), this is a disturbingly frank appraisal of an invidious cultural horror no longer skulking in the shadows. Many of the examples the author uses are unexpected, and the book is packed with pause-for-thought moments. A clarion call for change, supremely researched and well told. I'll be reading more of the author' Apart from a slightly preachy bit about right wing politics in the middle (which is in fact completely justified, but to me only made more sense as I got a fuller picture towards the end), this is a disturbingly frank appraisal of an invidious cultural horror no longer skulking in the shadows. Many of the examples the author uses are unexpected, and the book is packed with pause-for-thought moments. A clarion call for change, supremely researched and well told. I'll be reading more of the author's works.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Giovanna Walker

    Wow. Helps explain why people 'go down the rabbit hole', the digital whip at work, neoliberalism, hostile architecture, sex with robots...yep, covers A LOT. I found it quite pertinent with all the political chaos in the US at the moment. Also hones in to a local level and what you can do as an individual, as well as suggestions for the role of government. A bit scary and also optimistic at the same time. I'd definitely recommend. The writing is not academic (which some of these books can be) eve Wow. Helps explain why people 'go down the rabbit hole', the digital whip at work, neoliberalism, hostile architecture, sex with robots...yep, covers A LOT. I found it quite pertinent with all the political chaos in the US at the moment. Also hones in to a local level and what you can do as an individual, as well as suggestions for the role of government. A bit scary and also optimistic at the same time. I'd definitely recommend. The writing is not academic (which some of these books can be) even though there are over 100 pages of references...now THAT'S comprehensive research!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alicia Bayer

    This is an excellent book that not only goes into the depths of our loneliness but its many causes and ramifications. It's in-depth and fascinating, and it also offers a host of excellent solutions at the individual, community, workplace and national levels. I read hundreds of books in an average year and there are always a handful that stick with me. This is one that I know will stand out for this year. Highly recommended. I read a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley. This is an excellent book that not only goes into the depths of our loneliness but its many causes and ramifications. It's in-depth and fascinating, and it also offers a host of excellent solutions at the individual, community, workplace and national levels. I read hundreds of books in an average year and there are always a handful that stick with me. This is one that I know will stand out for this year. Highly recommended. I read a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zeke Coady

    Well-researched and thought-provoking. I think the core argument that loneliness is a modern health issue is well-made and highly persuasive. However the book’s ability to draw this issue into economic and historical context is a bit weaker. I agreed with it, but my worldview was already very sympathetic - I’d be interested to see what another reader with different politics thinks of it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Natasha Giroux

    A really interesting read - I was constantly bringing it up in conversation to explore its points. I listened to the audiobook and must admit that although I usually prefer a book to be read by the author, Hertz’s habit of pausing in odd places began to grate on me. However, this is a triumphant and poignant piece of non-fiction and I hope politicians pick it up!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Solid analysis of the forces that are working against social connection and human health in modern life, e.g. capitalism and social media. It held my interest, affirmed my burning hatred of open work spaces, and made me feel less alone about being lonely. A book that does those things for me earns 5/5 stars.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sammy

    Again. Again. Again. This book goes straight to my shopping list because I need it in my bookshelf NOW. I love that Hertz focuses on both individuals and societies responsibilities, and she nailed the last sentence in the final chapter. What a relevant and important subject this is.

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