If you live alone with no sense network of friends or family you can meet up with frequently, face-to-face, this book is a straight to your cranial horror tome. And social virtual networks do not count. Not really.
The Village Effect supposes that there is a real and tangible benefit to being part of a community. Whether that's a familial town up in a remote Italian hideaway, a group of religious worshippers, or even sitting down for a family meal and actually talking to each other, what matters is that you connect with other humans. It's filled with evidence that a community of peers, of people you can turn to and spend time with, is as great a factor in your health as eating right and exercising.
It's a fascinating and to the point argument about surrounding yourself with genuine contacts, friends and people you care to spend time with. Actual real in-your-face-I-can-smell-what-you-had-for-lunch time. The more we're alone, the faster we turn toward that gravestone and along the way, the ills and pains. Teeth falling out and hearts with less gusto among the many bumps.
The flipside of being part of a close-knit community is also explored. Taking its heels in the form of being scammed out of your savings, the Ponzi schemes of Bernie Madoff and Eddie Jones show a dark side to these communities. Here it's seen that the walls of distrust fall away when that bond is created in a close group, and allowed such scams to run off with so much money before derailment.
In a way The Village Effect also shows us that the true nature of society is one ruled by a matriarchy. Women rule the roost in many of the findings, and are the true alphas in a village. Being able to determine who is and isn't on the outer. Further to that, men get short-shrift, even if they're married, due in part to how they squirrel away, and if they're not careful, are one person away from being totally alone.
It would be easy to hand wave the research with the rule that correlation does not imply causation, but that the sources are varied and thorough in their tracking of the environments and effects makes it hard to ignore when they're all drawing out the same conclusions.
Susan Pinker writes in an unassuming manner and renders facts with a plain ease. There are a lot of studies to comb through, and they're put together in a cohesive fabric with the total weave presented at the end being a clear, decisive one. Pinker also injects the author into a lot of the chapters, relaying anecdotes that parallel the findings. This approach adds a touch of humanity to what otherwise would be bare reporting of studies and research papers. For a book about humans and their connections, of course you would.
Of the The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter what we're told in not-so subtle terms is that you cannot mentally, physically or emotionally afford to become an island unto yourself. Lest you do wish to be found years later as a rotted corpse still watching the oven door because you didn't have anyone to check up on you. A clear indictment against solitude and of thinking that a virtual community can provide any of the mortal or tangible benefits of a physical one.
The publisher, Spiegel & Grau, provided a review copy
Reviewed on Sunday, 24 August 2014