American Nerd: The Story of My People
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American Nerd: The Story of My People

2.98 of 5 stars 2.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,199 ratings  ·  302 reviews
Most people know a nerd when they see one but can't define just what a nerd is. "American Nerd: The Story of My People" gives us the history of the concept of nerdiness and of the subcultures we consider nerdy. What makes Dr. Frankenstein the archetypal nerd? Where did the modern jock come from? When and how did being a self-described nerd become trendy? As the nerd emerge...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 13th 2007 by Scribner
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This book should really be titled Male American Nerd. Female nerds (or geeks or dorks or what have you—but let’s stick with Nugent’s terminology) are glossed over when they’re mentioned at all. Aside from a little bit about Saturday Night Live’s Lisa Loopner and four paragraphs—count ’em, four!—about yaoi, nerdy women are only really referenced in the context of “there were a couple of women there, but it was mostly all men.” The far more present female figures are some of Nugent’s childhood fri...more
In American Nerd: The Story of My People author Benjamin Nugent starts off with a great premise. He aims to trace the origin of the nerd stereotype, see how it developed, examine how it's depicted in popular culture, and see how it's entangled with our thinking about masculinity, technology, intelligence, and outsiders. It is a great premise, one in which I no doubt have somewhat of a vested interest. But unfortunately after some early successes Nugent seems to run out of material and just start...more
Jul 12, 2008 Anna rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one. sorry.
Recommended to Anna by: wired magazine
I really tried to love this book. The name was so clever, and the premise so intriguing, that I was so excited to jump right in. It took me more than a month, however, to get through it, and I still don't feel like the chapters were ever tied into a whole unifying thought. This will be labeled as one of those books that COULD'VE have been so good.

There were a few good points. Given my involvement in Cub Scouts right now, I enjoyed reading about how the Boy Scout program is focused on developing...more
Gus Sanchez
There's a paragraph or two that best summarizes the empathy Benjamin Nugent feels for his fellow nerdy brethren:

Jack Jenkins and Zack Malitz found in their debate community a way to rebel against what they considered an overly regimented high-school existence. Their nerdy activity was a way out of a cage of false certainties.

Then there are other nerds for whom order is not a cage but a bright, clean Radisson in the snake-infested wilderness that is their daily life. For them, being a nerd is not
An enjoyable and insightful look at nerd culture. A lot of ideas get dropped before they're fully explored, though, and I wish it had been just a bit more scholarly and a bit less anecdotal. Reading this was sort of like reading a very long Slate article -- you feel like you're listening to a friend explore a topic and reach a pretty good but not entirely satisfying conclusion. You want to tell him, "Yeah, great job," at the end, anyway.
Saw it at the store and immediately knew I had to buy and read it - the topic has always fascinated me and seems an important one, and the tone - "pretty much serious, but" - seemed exactly right.

Nugent's natural mode is somewhere in between magazine color writing and sheer bloggy speculation, all of which I find entirely sympathetic, but it prevents him from really driving home any of his conclusions. He's generally content just to suggest connections and offer ideas that have occurred to him....more
Sarah Jane
I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. Parts of it were interesting and well-written, and other parts (entire chapters, even) read like a research paper and started to lose me. I have a short attention span for over-intellectualizing, unless I'm really into the subject matter. I found myself skimming through some of this...never a good sign.

Also, I have a major bone to pick with the author. He manages to go on for 200+ pages and barely mentions women at all. Girls can be nerds too...more
Jul 05, 2008 Michael rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: nerds and those who love them
I'm still forming my opinion about American Nerd....

Full disclosure: I am a nerd.

Nugent (Ben, not Ted) presents a bleak picture (for the most part) of American nerddom. While I certainly found some things in there to identify with, Nugent's suggestion that most nerds have seriously messed up home lives that drive them to nerdity is over the top.

It was slow going through the first few chapters, then the book became more intriguing. The last few chapters were the bleakest, as Nugent waxes morose...more
I found this book haphazardly, wandering through the aisles of Borders on one fine afternoon. Knowing full well that I needed a light read after finishing The Book Thief, I thought that American Nerd would fit the bill quite nicely. What I came to realize was that American Nerd was not the lighthearted book I thought it was, but instead a refreshing and quasi-academic approach to a lighthearted subject.

I could go on to describe the book further, but I'd rather list a few of my favorite quotes in...more
Most of the people I know who are nerdy embrace their way of life. This is the story of somebody who fought strongly against it, and on some level regrets it. If you know that going in and find the idea interesting, you might like this book more than I did.

When Nugent subtitles this "the story of my people," he's not kidding. It's mostly about the people he has encountered (including himself before high school) who are nerdy. I expected something more encompassing, and instead got a sort of memo...more
Before I launch into a discussion of what a nerd is and where the idea of nerds comes from, I’d like to disclose that when I was eleven, I had a rich fantasy life in which I carried a glowing staff.

Thus opens Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People.

Personally, I imagined I had the energy bow that Hank the Ranger ran around with in the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. Nevertheless, I recognized the call of a similar soul and immediately put down my other reading to plow through Nugent’s atte...more
Una grossissima delusione.
Dalla descrizione che ne era stata data, pensavo di trovare magari accenni alla vita di icone come magari Jobs, Gates, Zuckenberg, Spielberg, Gygax… invece siamo di fronte a tutt altro.
Ci sono diverse reminiscenze personali di Nugent, che racconta di quanto fosse complessato e problematico da piccolo, di come tutto ciò fosse sfociato nel nerdismo, e di come poi avesse deciso invece di diventare cool e avesse mandato a quel paese gli amici nerd.

Ma andiamo per ordine, o r...more
Before I get into the review, I just want to acknowledge my own validation. This year, at SXSW, I asked at every session that talked about the web and site/software development from a non-white male perspective (so girls & games, black tech bloggers, etc.) this one question: Is not having group X participating in the creation of Y a problem?

Ron Eglash, an associate professer at RPI, tells Nugent:

"Voice Recognition software works better on men's voices because a bunch of engineers are sittin...more
Sep 24, 2008 Trena rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Trena by: Library new book shelf
I picked this up from the new non-fiction shelf at the library on the strength of the title and the charmingly self-deprecating and funny preface. Who knew those were the two best things about this book. First of all, although the author is apparently launched into his career, it reads suspiciously like an expansion of an earnest senior thesis. Second, I would quibble with his definition of nerd. By nerd, he means what I would call a geek--somebody with a single-minded focus, usually on an escap...more
I wish this book was around when I was in high school. I realize looking back that I shied away from fully embracing my nerdiness the way most of my friends did either because there was no other choice or it never even occurred to them to be otherwise. Sure I flaunted my individualism by quoting the likes of Emerson - "whoso would be a man (or woman in my case) must be a non-conformist" or "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." I confess: I was a dilettante or is that nerdilett...more
Feb 16, 2009 jess rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to jess by:
Shelves: 2009
First of all, I enjoyed American Nerd. Ben Nugent's writing style is readable, almost conversational, and it was a quick read for me. But shame on Ben Nugent for his messy analysis of the intersections of race and gender with nerdiness!

The first section of this book is the strongest. You could put it down, not knowing about the author's nerd credentials, anecdotal nerd friends, and D&D gatherings, and you would have a satisfying experience. But not me, I have to read the whole book. The fir...more
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Brian Ayres
This book had so much potential, particularly with its very original thesis. However, Nugent provides nothing more than a mishmash of unconnected stories about the stereotype of a nerd with mixes of his own boring autobiography. For those who were not born from the years 1970-1980, you will not pick up or care about the references to movies like Revenge of the Nerds (which he mentioned probably a dozen times in the first 100 pages), D&D and Atari 2600.

This book should have expanded on the pa...more
Oh, this is very good. He takes on the sociology of geekdom with a mixed biographical and academic take. He's extremely critical, and makes me want to argue back regularly, but the critique is not nasty, and is clearly made from a fairly respectful and sympathetic stance. Somehow he doesn't pull any punches -- hitting the relationship of geekdom to race, to gender, to hipsterism, to autism -- all the touchy ones. The structure is a little wack, but for the most part it's a loose set of academic...more
Heather Schmitt
This was really good - a cross between non-fiction and autobiography.At one point in the book, he shows the similarities between Asperger's syndrome and nerdiness.I am simplifying what the author has written (his mother is a psychologist- her specialty is Asperger's syndrome).At 224 pages, a slim book, but if your personality leans towards nerd , I would recommend trying this book out.
Read this in one gulp. Was worth reading, but I suppose I was looking for something a little more both more in depth and less technical (I was reminded a lot of my undergrad college research papers by the style)...more celebratory. Gave pretty short shrift to those of the female persuasion as well. Did have some autobiographical details sprinkled throughout, but I think if this type of thing were to be included that it would have been better to also include some anecdotes/interviews from other t...more
An insightful look at prejudice in America. The chapters about the treatment of nerds and racism were particularly interesting

It definitely sparked a discussion about where I fit in the nerd spectrum. I think most people assume I am a nerd because of my love of machine and general dislike of people and social situations. However, a certain degree of athleticism and my utter refusal to participate in SCA would say otherwise.
A surprisingly dull and badly-written book about a potentially fascinating subject. Throwing together a few anecdotes, some pithy quotes, and lots of banal memories of one's own adolescence is hardly cultural anthropology. At best, "American Nerd" reads like a masters' thesis badly in need of revision. At worst, it reads like a random collection of paragraphs pasted between two covers.
Thomas Bell
I thought that the first half of this book was very interesting, giving a historical aspect of the nerd.

Unfortunately, it steadily got worse, and it got so bad at the ending that the only reason I kept reading was because I was so close to the end of the book.

Benjamin Nugent starts going on about how being a nerd is equivalent to not having very much sex in high school. That's why many parents don't want their kids to be nerds because they want their kids to have a bunch of high school sex. Then...more
SO good. You know how writers like to mine their geeky childhoods for comedy, but it always comes off kind of defensive, like "ha ha see I'm not a geek anymore"? American Nerd is the opposite of that -- honest and revealing and surprisingly moving.
Part anthropological study, part cultural history, part autobiography.

Also, part interesting and part dull. I kept wanting this to be a great book but it really really wasn't. Although parts of it were pretty interesting.
"American Nerd" takes an entertaining and insightful leap into the realm of nerds, their origins, habits and habitats, and evolution. The personal stories and case studies are interesting and the history of the evolution of nerds is very good. There is a chapter that diverges off into speech and debate teams which was rather dry, but overall it was a good read. I especially enjoyed the discussion of the split between thinking and feeling, the divide and separation between the rational and the in...more
This is one of those books I put on my to read list because it sounded interesting, but then when I actually started reading it, I instantly became skeptical.

Look. This book is not a fine piece of literature or even a great research book, but it is a series of entertaining essays loosely organized around a general topic. If I were a professor grading this essay in a senior seminar, I'd be both annoyed because he clearly didn't take the assignment very seriously and also managed to assemble a th...more
The chapter that argues that our current idea of a "nerd" is largely based on stereotypes about Chinese and Jewish immigrants is fascinating.
I wanted to like this book, but the choppy flow and breezy half-discussed topics (especially race, oddly) left me feeling disappointed.
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“I will take a serious approach to a subject usually treated lightly, which is a nerdy thing to do.” 15 likes
“Before i launch into a discussion of what a nerd is and where the idea of nerds comes from, I'd like to diclose that when i was eleven, I had a rich fantasy life in which I carried a glowing staff.” 6 likes
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