Getting crowded

Public assemblies are central to American history. In this book, subtitled From Stamp Riots to Shopping Sprees, Al Sandine, a former blue-collar worker, traces the meanings and motives of U.S. crowds in eight snappy chapters. Who were these folks who came together, protested and rioted to right wrongs, imagined and real? Sandine offers intriguing insights into why we should care about crowds, how times have changed as regards large gatherings and what has remained the same. Crowd-shaping forces that loom large in post-World War II America are the big three: cars, freeways and suburbs. Each alienates us from the communitarian impulses that have in the past seeded progressive and regressive gatherings. Today’s crowds reflect this disempowering juncture that dehumanizes Americans, from competitive mall shoppers to Hurricane Katrina victims. Sandine gives no blueprint for a brighter future, but he makes a strong case that crowds will propel a long-overdue shift from being “I” people to its opposite, “we” people.