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Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  230 ratings  ·  60 reviews
WHAT IS IT THAT DRIVES THE SUCCESS OF AMERICA AND THE IDENTITY OF ITS PEOPLE? ACCLAIMED WRITER AND CONTRIBUTING EDITOR TO THIS AMERICAN LIFE JACK HITT THINKS IT’S BECAUSE WE’RE ALL A BUNCH OF AMATEURS.

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
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 15th 2012 by Crown (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Kathrina
"For any reporter, there's a pleasure in delving into a specialty -- like telescope making. It's akin to traveling to a foreign country. The language is weird, the views are uncommon, but the company is always stimulating. The fun typically involves finding some way to carry back from this outpost of human endeavor a sense of the specialist's language that a non-telescope maker, even someone with no interest in astronomy, can enjoy as stories."
Anyone who reads a lot, especially someone unencumbe
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Martin
I really looked forward to reading this book, particularly at the moment when--browsing through its latter pages in my local library--I discovered that I had already read and thoroughly enjoyed one of its chapters, "Mighty White of You," which appeared in the July 2005 issue of Harper's magazine. I have even tried--unsuccessfully--to get my AP students to read that article as an example of just how fluid and flexible nonfiction writing can be, how it can take a dry university discipline (in this ...more
John
Jun 05, 2012 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: innovators, entrepreneurs
Recommended to John by: Jack Hitt
The term 'amateur' signifies different things to different people, and in Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character , author Jack Hitt points out particular examples of that breed: people characterized by inquisitiveness, broad-mindedness and genuine self-confidence, and he illustrates how they have worked in such different fields of study in a cycle of innovation. He presents his case early in this, his newest book:
"It turns out that ignorance is bliss and, in many cases, a more p
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Kristen
This had such potential to be a really good book. If only the author actually wrote about what he said he was going to write about, it would have been great. The book is supposed to be about amateurs who tinker and tackle various questions, often in opposition to professionals. In one case, that of Melissa Patterson in the area of synthetic biology, he does this.

In other areas, for example birding and archaeology, we get only scant mention of the amateurs and instead get extended lessons in the
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Jaylia3
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 pre ...more
El_kiablo
The prologue to this book makes it sound as if it is going to be a search into the heart of what being an amateur is, particularly in these days where new technology is offering so many opportunities for individuals to interact with - and sometimes go to war with - the officially sanctioned systems. Hitt announces that he's going to explore a specific facet of the American character, and explain what makes us a nation of experimenters.

This is not that book.

This is a series of longish essays clum
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Corey
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I can't bear to give it just two stars because the writing is just so good. But it barely makes three. Jack Hitt is a wonderful craftsman of the written word and the humor throughout the book is what kept me going. I must admit I was also intrigued by the premise: that depending upon the topic and the pursuit, the notion of being an amateur can be a compliment or a curse. The book begins strong but then it devolves into a lot of heavy-handed judgments ...more
Max Wilson
The larger thesis of this book - that amateurs matter - is great. The author has a good mixture of examples, from Benjamin Franklin as the quintessential example of American amateurs to modern "home-brewers" splicing yogurt genes. The slow, collective Internet-based debunking of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings ruined my day. Not the most amazing non-fiction I've read, but very sociological and worth your time.
Stewart Tame
Excellent book. Hitt has an engaging style. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on biohackers and can think of several people I know who would enjoy it and/or be terrified by it. I will definitely keep my eye open for more of his books now that I have some idea of how entertaining and informative they can be.
Heather
I liked the topic of this book, it fits in nicely with what I'm learning about makerspaces, but the execution was a little wordy. Jack Hitt highlights various American amateurs--those studying astronomy, birding experts, self-taught dinosaur gurus, etc. He chose some real characters, both living and dead, including Ben Franklin. His writing is clever and interesting, a little flippant at times, but I think I would have enjoyed it even more if some editor had shaved off about a quarter of the tex ...more
Christa Van
This is a great book told in a master "storytelling" fashion about various topics that are dominated to some degree by amateurs who are making discoveries, and advancing science. Hitt makes the case for amateurs throughout American history, going back to Benjamin Franklin, and idea that this is part of our character.

One of my favorite chapters is about the rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, a bird that was thought to be extinct. A group of professional ornithologists were touting this "
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Emily
Dec 18, 2012 Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
"Bunch of Amateurs"--great title--kind of makes the opposite point from Idiot America. That book identifies cranks as derailers of serious discourse who damage America. This one identifies amateurs, even when they're a bit nutty, as "the soul of America"--curious and industrious people who won't kowtow to the establishment.

I'm predisposed to like the argument of the present book more, but this treatment is all over the place. I echo the reviews that wonder what some of the chapters actually have
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Laura Lee
The fact that I didn't particularly enjoy this book probably mostly stems from the fact that I was expecting something totally different. That's completely my fault for not canvassing properly before I dove in. I assumed from the Kindle sample I read that it would be an overview of the ways that amateur inventors/politicians/scientists/businessmen/etc. shaped the course of American history. The opening chapters, featuring speculation on the possibility of an ancient settlement of Irish priests i ...more
Crown Publishing Group
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
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Brooks
This is a like many non-fiction books that have a mix of stories around a theme. The theme here is the idea of the American Amateurs- the Ben Franklins and Bill Gates, The uncredentialt versus the establishment and PHDs. However, it does not always hold together. It starts with amateur archeology and who were the first Americans. How some believe the celts came to America prior to the land bridge from Asia. Or maybe Homo Sapiens developed in Europe and spread from there rather than Africa. He po ...more
Danae
Started out ok-- his premise was interesting enough, but I don't know if the anecdotes got worse or I just got tired of his schtick. The first few chapters I found quite engaging, but I really just started to get annoyed with his general tone-- there was pretty much no one, professional or amateur, that he wouldn't poke fun at. Not in a "ha, ha, you're all my friends" kind of way, but in an "I'm really superior to the lot of you" kind of way. And his bragging about what a big atheist he is, whic ...more
Jesse
I won this book as a FirstReads copy, I think I have to point that out.

Jack Hitt takes on the task of exploring the creative character that drives innovation in the U.S. He's not looking in the hugely funded corporate R&D departments, he visits (in no particular order) a trailer park, a garage, an Arkansas swamp, and a townhouse in Boston where people fiddle with microscopes.

Hitt takes the time to start the book by defining Amateurism in the most American sense - that of a passionate hobbyi
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Terri
Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character by Jack Hitt is an interesting look at weekend hobbyists who can sometimes be more professional than the professionals in their respective fields. The book talks about a variety of subjects and the people who will work endlessly for the pursuit of that subject, whether it be the ancestry of an ancient skeleton, ways to manipulate DNA or an elusive bird. And yes, after reading about the ivory-billed woodpecker, I did have to look it up to see ...more
Tracey
Picked the Kindle version of this book up from the local library. I'd heard about it based on B&N's New Books Newsletter back in May & finally got around to it.

Hitt is a magazine writer (and it kinda shows) who believes that the amateur urge has been part of what helped build America. He opens with a discussion of Ben Franklin (the amateur) and John Adams (the pro) and their differing approaches towards diplomatic relations with the French. Sounds terribly boring, I know - but it was re
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Rick
Not what I was anticipating, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. For some reason, I thought this was going to be a road trip through the world of do-it-yourselfers: a broad-ranging collection of tales of the numerous people spending their time tinkering at the outer edges of mainstream pursuits like space exploration, jet-packs, gene-splicing, etc.

And in one sense, it was. But rather than an all-you-can-eat assortment of quirky endeavors, Mr. Hitt takes a handful of characters and uses their stories to

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Lori
if you're worried that American is in decline Jack Hitt says relax. we'll be saved by a bunch of amateurs fiddling around in their garages and home labs. they are not worried about prestige, have no agenda or territory or reputation to protect like professionals, and have no fear of failure if they're having fun. ben franklin, biohackers, birders who are too busy in the field to get their degrees, and other crackpots and eccentrics are profiled. fun read with a great cover of a barn with an astr ...more
Jeff
Audiobook. A lot of this book was pretty good. It is divided into sections that are sometimes interwoven to illustrate the overall point. The whole section on birds never seemed to be resolved and did not fit with the book but the author seemed to think it the most important. Overall I enjoyed the stories about the average guy showing up the professional and could see the authors point.
Aaron
Some interesting insights here into the (peculiarly?) American penchant for winging it, for sort of hacking life into some new configuration almost constantly. The work of the uncredentialed crackpots out there--and there are many--supports the American enterprise in no small part, Hitt suggests. Really interesting early chapters on Ben Franklin's fly-by-the-seat-of-one's-breeches style (an innovator, an inventor, a lech) and the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker fiasco, which had the most respected insti ...more
James Ramsay
Bunch of Amateurs is equal parts inquisitive reporting and sharp-as-hell wit; some of the best non-fiction storytelling out there, on par with Sarah Vowell and Ian Frazier.

On Ben Franklin dressed in cartoony frontier garb at Versailles:

"Imagine [John Adams's] reaction at the sheer audacity of a known libertine like Franklin, a woman-letching, Paris-loving gourmand costumed in the humble garments of a colonial bumpkin. . . . What would be the comparable moment for us? Imagine being invited to t
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Uwe Hook
"Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character" is a look into the mindset that made, and continues to make, America great. My family valued scientific learning and experimentation at home, so have always been interested in those inventors and entrepreneurs that were able to come up with advancements in their "free time".

I had fully expected to love this book based on the concept and the strong start of the opening chapters, but it quickly lost its focus and strayed off point too often
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Catherine
It was hard to find a common theme in the essays in this book (most of which are interesting – particularly when the author’s personality slipped in). Initially I expected it to be about the American entrepreneurial spirit. It was more about eccentric characters, some of whom were in fact inventors and some of whom were just oddballs. Ranged from Benjamin Franklin (focusing on how he used perceptions of his personality to his benefit while in France) to the bird-watching crowd who advanced the I ...more
Ronald Roseborough
Some small parts of this book caught my interest, but larger parts did not. The chapters on Benjamin Franklin were quite fascinating and very informative. Other chapters were overly long. Wading through the chapter describing the search for the possibly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker left me wanting to knock my head against a tree. The premise of America being a nation defined by it's amateurs is intriguing but this book for the most part is not. I just had the feeling that the book was a loose ...more
Alana
Very breezily written and often hilarious book about how obsessive amateurs have impacted our country for better and for worse, mostly better. Citing Ben Franklin as America's first amateur/dabbler, the author runs through a list of disciplines where amateurs have show great prominence. The amateurs and the elite still battling ii out from bird watching to bio-chemistry to space exploration (from home-made telescopes). The cast of characters are that great mix of nutty professor, geek, genius an ...more
Stacy
This was disappointing. The description made it sound like the author would be spending time with a lot of different amateurs and learning what makes them tick. Instead, he mostly wrote about the topics the amateurs were dabbling in--birding, archaeology, whatever--and not very much at all about the amateurs themselves. It often came across more as a lecture on those topics than anything else.

For a book that is kind of similar but much more interesting and entertaining, I recommend Shari Caudron
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Sarah Key
Jack Hitt's subject matter is extremely interesting. However, his voice is "amateur," as he would probably prefer it called. The book was difficult to read at times due to winding, nonsensical sentences and poor word choice. Several of the chapters were not crafted well at all. I heard Jack Hitt speak this past October and loved the man. The discussion of his novel was absolutely hilarious. After the reading, he and I had a fantastic conversation and laughed a lot. Jack Hitt is a funny guy. Just ...more
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Hitt was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, where he attended the Porter-Gaud School. He got his start in journalism as editor of the "Paper Clip," the literary magazine of Porter-Gaud's first through fifth grades. According to his biography, he published "some of the finest haiku penned by well-off pre-teens in all of South Carolina's lowcountry".

Since 1996, Hitt has also been a contr
...more
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