Kathrina's Reviews > Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character

Bunch of Amateurs by Jack Hitt
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Jul 23, 12

bookshelves: history, essays-interviews
Read from July 22 to 23, 2012

"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 unencumbered by genres, knows something of this fascination-- peering over the shoulders of people obsessed with a strange passion, getting off on not just the thing itself, but the singular passion, the desire to know and master, that exudes from the very pores of the obsessed. There is so much in this world to know, so much to explore, and here is someone who has picked just one thing, one arbitrary corner of the universe of knowing, and simply by spending the better part of their life playing with it (and I do mean playing, tinkering, experimenting for the glory of the thing and not the credentials that officialize it), help us see the awesomeness, the exceptional beauty, the potential of some tiny piece of something.

Jack Hitt is very good at finding these people and telling their stories, and simultaneously tells the American story, mad scientists, kooks, and amateurs all. And some of them aren't even all that kooky when you just sit down and listen.

He finds these characters in all diverse realms -- ornithology, astronomy, robotics, social sciences -- he even found a real-life girl with the dragon tattoo performing garage bioengineering. He could have continued through every discipline if he hadn't worn out his poor research assistants. And I stand in awe of all of them. How do you pick up a hobby like genetic mutations? Do you just run across some discarded DNA strands and get to work? I will never be that person, but I always hope that, through constant naive and enthusiastic exposure, I can encourage my kids to see themselves as potential amateurs in anything. You never know what will stick, right? What stuck with me is the high I get from other people's enthusiasms, people like Jack Hitt who recognize the extraordinary in every character he meets, and then writes so skillfully that I can know them, too.
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message 1: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol "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."

A stunning review...you do pick them!


Kathrina Thanks, Carol. I think you'd like this one.


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