Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character

By Jack Hitt

(Crown, $26, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Jack Hitt, pardon the pun, is no one-hit wonder.

His work can be found on the page – including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, GQ, Wired and Garden & Gun – and on public radio’s “This American Life” and on the stage, in the solo theater performance that is currently touring, entitled “Making Up the Truth.” He has won the Peabody Award, as well as the Livingston and Pope Foundation Awards.

What is this book about?

From Benjamin Franklin’s electricity experiments with a kite to Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm-room musings that led to Facebook, America has a long and proud history of amateur tinkerers who went on to invent or perfect great ideas, processes and products. Hitt explores a fascinating collection of these outside-the-box explorers who, he says, are living embodiments of the power of the American dream. He looks back at past inventors but focuses on current researchers and dreamers looking to create something new and amazing. The good news, he says, is that American inventiveness seems to blossom in cycles and we are beginning a new one now.

Why you’ll like it:

Written with great good humor, this book is loaded with fascinating anecdotes about  obsessive but brilliant people who are doing their best to change the world in positive ways. There ideas and methods are intriguing, and while some may at first seem downright nutty, such as glow-in-the-dark yogurt, Hitt convinces the reader that their efforts are important and often thrilling. The electronics revolution is remaking our lives right now, and Hitt makes the case that there is more to come from the brilliant if quirky amateurs he writes about. Hitt’s book is thought-provoking and fun to read.

What others are saying:

“A love letter to American culture…as fascinating as it is inspiring, this hilarious book is a tour de force that celebrates troublemakers, risk takers, and the American spirit,” says Publishers Weekly.

“Jack Hitt is a latter-day Twain: a Southern storyteller and Yankee skeptic who slaughters sacred cows with unfailing wit and a childlike sense of wonder at the world. This makes him the perfect guide to the wacky yet inspiring universe of American inventiveness. Hitt’s playfully profound book had me laughing with pride at the amateur in us all,” says author Tony Horwitz.

“…a fabulous tribute to amateurs….This is a totally absorbing gallery of oddballs and obsessives on the brink of possibly great discoveries, written by a man with a deep appreciation for amateurs and their pursuits,” says Booklist.

“A guide through the sometimes-consequential, sometimes-zany realm of amateurs. Veteran journalist Hitt …posits that various brands of amateurism conceived in the interest of advancing knowledge offer meaningful insights into a uniquely American character. The narrative thread holds together nicely through chapters focusing on the legendary amateurism of Benjamin Franklin, birdwatchers seeking the ivory-billed woodpecker, inventors of various gadgets, genealogists, archaeologists, astronomers and linguists. Hitt wisely concedes that other nations harbor amateurs, as well, but he maintains that American amateurs are notable for their comfort with exploration and with rebelling against authority. …Searching for lasting answers, Hitt studies business theory, providing a serious explanation that outsiders are often not hidebound by the curse of knowledge. In other words, when it comes to reconceiving a workplace, an industry, a charitable endeavor or some other institution, perhaps ignorance sometimes can be considered bliss,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

Amateurs and pros alike can find this book on the new books shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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