There are many things we use all the time without really paying attention to them. That’s normal and even helpful a lot of the time; life would slow down impossibly if we couldn’t move relatively seamlessly through certain tasks or activities.

And yet it can be refreshing to stop a while and see something familiar in new light, to reflect on what we take for granted or what we assume must always be done a certain way because we’ve simply never wondered if there’s a different way to do things.

During the Covid-19 lockdown many of us have had the opportunity to think again what it means to be together, what it means to be lonely, and what we can do whilst we’re alone (or living on top of one another?) to keep our sanity as we go through this period in history at the same time but apart.

Together by Vivek Murthy was conceived a long time before any of us had heard the word coronavirus, in a time when lockdown was a word normally associated with prisons rather than everyday, all day life for millions across the world. And yet, with his generous, engaging exploration of “Loneliness, health and what happens when we find connection” Murthy (Surgeon General of the United States under Obama) offers an pertinent, inspiring if also, at times, worrying read.

Insights from scientists about the causes of loneliness and how it physically and mentally impacts us form the first half of this book. Stories from people engaged in creative, thoughtful and kind ways to bring people together to reduce loneliness fill the remainder of the book, and whilst this is no self-help-how-to guide, so many different ideas are presented, so many different but effective ways of making a difference are shared, it’s an essential read for anyone who wants to make a difference, especially those who programme events and activities, whether in work, in clubs and community groups, or even at home.

Whether it is GPs making the most of social prescribing i.e. recommending “resources and activities in the community that can help patients forge health social connections”, the US mayor who decided to turn his city into a City of Kindness, the neighbour who started street potluck meals, the university student who created Space Gatherings where fellow students could leave social expectations about student life at the door, the (now) worldwide Men’s Shed movement, telephone helplines like Silver Line, or school projects which encourage anonymous acts of generosity, Together is packed with a rich buffet of examples that can inspire and give hope.

An exhilarating germane read. A must for anyone who wants to make a difference, especially as we move forward to life beyond lockdown, where – surely – the only way to rebuild will be together.

[Reviewed by Zoe for FOLIO]

Book review: Together
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