Having read and greatly appreciated many of Richard Sennett's books, I was rather disappointed with his latest book "Together: the rituals, pleasures & politics of cooperation". It looks to me more like a meandering postmodern draft that was hastily dashed off to the publisher for publication before it was really finished, thought through, and properly structured. The editors then probably proceeded to tidy up the manuscript, so that it was publishable.
The prose is often chatty and discursive, liberally tossing around or stringing together a grab-bag of anecdotes, terminologies, truisms, quotations and digressions which, I suppose, are to attest to the erudition of the author. Point is, they often don't help the argument or the storyline along very much at all. The narrative is often so badly structured, and often rambles on so much, that the prose becomes irritatingly turgid, to the point of being a tiresome yawn (at least for the experienced reader who is looking for "real content"). Often it is not clear where the author is heading, and more importantly why exactly he is heading there - as if he was writing a novel in which paragraphs should be simply enjoyed for their own sake, or as if he was painting a freestyle landscape with all kinds of riveting small details. Some paragraphs are indeed enjoyable, and show some new and original insight, but what they all add up to, is often a moot point.
Sennett's core concept of cooperation is rather vaguely or provocatively (in my opinion, quite wrongly) defined as "exchange" and he discusses the spectrum of exchange in terms of five segments, namely "altruistic exchange", "differentiating exchange", "win-win exchange", "zero-sum exchange" and "winner-takes-all exchange". Readers expecting a profound, clear and thorough analysis of the modalities of cooperation and competition, well-grounded in the social-scientific literature, will be disappointed. Beyond his usual humanistic moralism and historical anecdotes, Sennett this time around offers only a fairly simplistic (but fashionable) concoction of new age game-theory, developmental psychology and socio-biology.
The central thesis advanced in the introduction is that "We are losing the skills of cooperation needed to make a complex society work", the implication being that we need to relearn those skills. The second half of the book is in this respect really more interesting than the first, but at the end I wasn't really convinced by the author's case. I had been taken on a cook's tour round and round the subject without the nail being hit firmly on the head.
In a "Coda" appendix, Sennett tosses out a few extra big ideas as a parting gift, such as "the twentieth century perverted cooperation in the name of solidarity" and "individualism implies the social absence of ritual", but they stand more as a testament of opinions, than as hypotheses backed with evidence and argument.
On the positive (appreciative) side, if you have the patience/leisure to read the book through and think critically about Sennett's luxuriant verbosity, there is certainly plenty of "food for thought" in this book. Even when he is not at his best, Sennett is still pretty good. It is just that, in a world already overloaded with information, most people interested in this subject area are likely to read more to find answers - and Sennett doesn't provide them, beyond variations on the lament that a world of experience is going asunder and that a new world is emerging which is destroying valuable human qualities.