Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz are associate clinical professors of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, each with 30 years of experience as clinicians and teachers. Their focus in this cogent work is why people continue to drift apart given all that is known about the medical benefits of social connection, such as responding better to stress, living longer, and having more resilient immune systems. What are some of the factors behind the increase in loneliness in America?

The cult of busyness is changing our social lives. Surveys reveal that more people are working longer hours and not taking vacations. With time in such short supply they are often reluctant to visit or call or invite someone over. Olds and Schwartz contend that this addiction to busyness is fueled by Calvinism, capitalism, and competitiveness. In mythic terms, the image of the lonesome hero still has a hold on our imaginations: it is based on the ideal of self-reliance and standing apart.

The authors do a fine job tracking the advance of loneliness in the large numbers of people caught in the nets of social exclusion, the increase in the number of one-person households, the large amount of time spent with the Internet rather than in face-to-face contact with others, and the impact of large-scale social disconnection on love and marriage. Olds and Schwartz end the book with assessments of the ripple effects of social isolation, the responses of the mental health industry to loneliness, and some suggestions for natural correctives to the drifting apart of Americans.