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Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character [Kindle Edition]

Jack Hitt
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $26.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $16.01 (62%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description


America’s self-invented tinkerers are back at it in their metaphorical garages—fiddling with everything from solar-powered cars to space elevators. In Bunch of Amateurs, Jack Hitt visits a number of different garages and has written a fascinating book that looks at America’s current batch of amateurs and their pursuits. From a tattooed young woman in the Bay Area trying to splice a fish’s glow-in-the-dark gene into common yogurt (all done in her kitchen using salad spinners)
to a space fanatic on the brink of developing the next generation of telescopes from his mobile home, Hitt not only tells the stories of people in the grip of a passion but argues that America’s history is bound up in a cycle of amateur surges.

Beginning with Ben Franklin’s kite and leading all the way to the current TV hit American Idol, Hitt argues that the nation’s
love of self-invented obsessives has always driven the country to rediscover the true heart of the American dream. Amateur pursuits are typically lamented as a world that just passed until a Sergey Brin or Mark Zuckerberg steps out of his garage (or dorm room) with the rare but crucial success story. In Bunch of Amateurs, Hitt argues that America is now poised to pioneer at another frontier that will lead, one more time, to the newest version of the American dream.

Editorial Reviews


“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.”--Publishers Weekly

“Hitt is smarter than Malcolm Gladwell, a better storyteller than his colleagues at This American Life, and a better reporter than any big name you can think of.” --Baltimore City Paper

“I ask myself if there's a better non-fiction writer in America than Jack Hitt . . . and come up with nobody. I've been following and stealing from his work my whole career. His usual mode is to convince you that you're reading a rollicking yarn, while with his left hand building a serious and unexpectedly persuasive argument. In Bunch of Amateurs he brings that to perfection. The book is about cranks, but it is also about the strange crucible of social tensions and intellectual assumptions inside of which our ‘knowledge’ gets made.” --John Jeremiah Sullivan

"Hitt is a virtuoso storyteller and a skilled distiller of complex subjects." --New York Times

"How embarrassing it is to be asked to craft a blurb for Jack Hitt. I'm not fit to carry his bags. Few writers are. Bunch of Amateurs is completely sublime; beautifully written, hilarious, brushfire protean in the erudite shifts he makes--high culture, low, science, history, music, you name it--and just wonderfully rollicking. Who else can have one simultaneously laughing out loud and waiting with bated breath for Benjamin Franklin to alight from a carriage in Paris in 1778? No one but Jack Hitt, that's who. Like I said, it shames me to endorse him, so unfit to the task am I, but endorse him I must. I have no choice. You must read this book." --David Rakoff

"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." --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.”Booklist

About the Author

JACK HITT is a contributing editor to the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, and public radio’s This American Life. He also writes for Rolling Stone, GQ, Wired, and, of course, Garden & Gun. He has won the Peabody Award, as well as the Livingston and Pope Foundation Awards. His stories can be heard on This American Life’s greatest hits CD, Lies, Sissies & Fiascoes, and The Best Crimes and Misdemeanors: Stories from The Moth. He is the author of a solo theater performance, currently touring, entitled Making Up the Truth.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1404 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (May 15, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006E511ZI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,456 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Looking at the reviews already written, I do fear my negative review will be rated poorly solely for being a negative review. But I do take my responsibility as a reviewer seriously, and I was just disappointed by reading this book which started out with so much promise. Please read my comments and be objective.

The premise is that the American culture favors the amateur over the professional, and over the course of US history, the amateur has often been the one to prove the professionals wrong. Hitt tells the story of the distrust between Franklin and Adams, the story of amateur ornithologists investigating an extinct woodpecker, amateur DNA hackers, amateur astronomers (including Dobson), and more. Each story had the promise of telling a compelling story, but unfortunately, the narrative of the book fell flat.

The chapter on Franklin and Adams opened the book, and was by far the most interesting and compelling. I love reading about history, and always enjoy a retelling of how Franklin hammed up his "frontiersman" persona while in France. Adams is the straight-laced diplomat who can't understand why nobody likes him and Franklin gets all of the attention. Hitt does a great job telling this story.

Unfortunately, the next chapter on amateur ornithologists just dragged on for too long and was near impossible to follow. An extinct bird is discovered in a swamp, but many think the experts are so invested in the story they refuse to admit they are wrong. As the author tells the tale, he vacillates between blaming the Bush administration, the Cornell University ornithology department, the general bias of experts, the desire of the public for a good story---he never seems to find a villain or explain his thinking.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In this entertaining and wide ranging book journalist Jack Hitt explores what it is to be an amateur and why it has been a quintessentially American pursuit since the time of Ben Franklin, a man Hitt sees as a sort of founding father of amateurism. The word amateur came into English from the French word meaning passionate lover, and while amateurs can be off-track or irritatingly obsessed, they sometimes see possibilities more clearly than professionals because they aren't so invested in the prevalent paradigm. An amateur invented the Dobsonian telescope, making backyard astronomy affordable, backyard rocketry amateurs have been hired by NASA, amateurs like the young Steve Jobs envisioned the personal computer, and it was ardent birding amateurs who spotted flaws in the evidence the Cornel Lab of Ornithology presented to prove that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was not extinct. A recent piece in the Washington Post Magazine profiled an amateur fossil collector in Maryland who has revolutionized the thinking about what sorts of dinosaurs lived in the eastern United States; I'll put the web address for the article in the comments section.

According to Hitt, the cutting edge of amateurism today is the scary sounding "biohacking", or extracting DNA from one life form and inserting it in another in order to achieve sometimes whimsical results, like yogurt that can glow in the dark. It's apparently bored computer programmers, unexcited by tweaking existing programs like Excel, who are looking for the next frontier and driving this trend.

Bunch of Amateurs has plenty of Bill Bryson-like side trips whose purpose isn't always obvious, at least at first, but they are all so interesting I was happy to see where they led.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quality addition to an important conversation. April 2, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy In America that nearly all Americans are Cartesians, even though few of them know that a "Cartesian" is one who follows the philosophy of Rene Descartes. Cartesians are famous for following the maxim, "I think, therefore I am," which translates into little faith in experts and a deep belief in the ability of one's own mind to figure things out.

In short, Tocqueville was saying that most Americans would rather think on their own, look over all sides of things and draw their own conclusions than give credence to the so-called "authority" of the experts. One side of this coin is a trust in one's own mind, thoughts and abilities, and the other side is a deeply imbedded mistrust of experts, officials, politicians, bureaucrats or anyone else claiming any kind of superiority, credibility, class standing, celebrity or special credentials. The American founders wrote this philosophy right into our founding documents when they outlawed titles of nobility.

In a new book, Bunch of Amateurs, author Jack Hitt writes that this spirit of self-confident amateurism is central to the American character and that indeed, "the amateur's dream is the American Dream." This is an enjoyable book that reminded me a little of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers or Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks, and a lot of The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. It is an interesting addition to the important genre of understanding the American character.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Unusual but confusing.
I found the book somewhat interesting, amusing, and confusing. The writer is very clever, but a couple of the chapters lost me almosst completely. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Robert Greenfield
5.0 out of 5 stars The real book on creativity and invention
I am in the middle of the book. It is great. I cant put it down - except to write this review in praise. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Catfish
2.0 out of 5 stars Bunch of Amateures
I'm only giving it a 2 star because of 3 probable falacies:

1) The bones found in Kennewick WA latter to be determined as ancient were first turned over to local civil... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Rod Davidson
4.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes the race is not to the swift
(This is for the paperback edition.) The author is a regular contributor on science related material to New York Times magazine and others of that ilk. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Reg Nordman
2.0 out of 5 stars Amateurish
One word can describer "Bunch of Amateurs," disappointment. The title evoked images tinkers, thinkers, and wannabe inventors working in garages, basements, or living room chairs... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Michael P. Lefand
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Surprising, a real good read!
As my wife drives along the flat, straight interstate highway, I read books out loud and we both laughed and were amazed by Hitts book on amateurs. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Theodore R. Spickler
2.0 out of 5 stars A Wordy Search, Little Finding
Mr. Hitt's essays fail to clearly describe an amateur; his up-front use of Ben Franklin as an amateur raises a prime question--are we to believe that Ben Franklin, who successfully... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Douglas Ericson
3.0 out of 5 stars A So-So Waste of Time
A book that aims to find the American Character certainly has its work cut out. My initial reaction to it was to think that it better be good if it actually means to find "the... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr. Bey
4.0 out of 5 stars Really Good Read
If you want to understand how the U.S. was built up by "amateurs" inventing the myriad of items that drove growth in this country this book is for you. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Tom Webb
4.0 out of 5 stars Far more than an amateur effort
Customer Video Review
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Published 17 months ago by L. Bravim
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