Photo by Jessica Barthel

Lydia Denworth ’88 is a science journalist whose 2020 book Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond examines the foundations of friendship. Delving into neuroscience and biology, she shows why connectedness is critical for our health and sense of well-being and why it should be at the top of our priority lists. Amid concerns about growing loneliness among Americans, PAW asked Denworth to recommend three more books for people who want to understand friendship — and then go out and make friends. She suggested these.

Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

By John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick

Friendship and loneliness occupy two ends of a continuum of social engagement. The former is an antidote to the latter. Appreciating the biological benefits of friendship, as I set out to do in my book, means first understanding the harms of loneliness.  The late John Cacioppo was a social psychologist at the University of Chicago who recognized the potential health consequences of loneliness before many others and did seminal work showing just how harmful loneliness could be — it affects the cardiovascular system, the immune system, sleep quality, stress responses and more. This important and engaging book, written with William Patrick, describes Cacioppo’s research and helped bring respect and attention to the field of social neuroscience.  More significantly, it made being lonely a little less, well, lonely. 

Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends

By Marisa G. Franco

How we connect reflects who we are. Our past experiences and relationships determine whether we are open and confident or whether past rejections have left us guarded and anxious. In Platonic, psychologist Marisa Franco explains beautifully why our early lives have so much influence on our grown-up friendships. This book sheds light on why it can feel so hard to make and maintain friends in adulthood and, better yet, what to do about it. Like me, Marisa believes friendship deserves more respect (she calls it the “underdog” of relationships) and she knows that it has the power to help us achieve a fulfilling life if we are willing to do the work to understand ourselves and the way we relate to others. 

Why Will No One Play with Me? The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive

By Caroline Maguire with Teresa Barker

The ability to make and keep even one close friend has been seen as vital to children’s well-being for more than half a century. And we now understand at a biological and even evolutionary level why that should be so. Friends matter at every age, but never more so than when we’re young because what we learn about friendship early on serves us — or hurts us — for the rest of our lives. Being good at friendship is one of the most critical skills a child can develop, and it has lifelong ramifications. Yet many parents spend more time talking with kids about achievement than about friendship and how to manage it. When I hear from parents who are worried about their children’s social lives, I recommend two things. First, they should make sure they’re modeling the importance of friendship in their own lives and helping kids develop and practice social skills. Second, I recommend this book. It won’t speak to every child’s situation, but it’s a good place to start.