Bunch of Amateurs

NPLibrarian[Editor’s note: Today we welcome Rebecca Nugent to our roster of Next Great Read reviewers.]

What do Benjamin Franklin, Mark Zuckerberg, and the painter and birder David Allen Sibley have in common?

Bunch of Amateurs book jacket

“Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character” by Jack Hitt is available from the library in hardcover.

They are three examples of the amateur spirit that author Jack Hitt considers the heart of the American character. In Bunch of Amateurs, he argues that amateurism has been a driving force behind American progress since the nation was founded.

Hitt introduces us to amateur scientists and inventors of all types– astronomers, paleontologists, even DIY biologists. These characters may at times seem like eccentrics or even oddballs, but they are always defined by a single-minded obsession with the truth as they see it. In some cases, they are right.

At the center of each story is the push and pull relationship between amateurism and professionalism. Amateurs may see professionals as constrained by their own assumptions, unable to examine new ideas without engrained prejudices. Professionals may see amateurs as uncredentialed hooligans, not worthy of attention.

Hitt introduces this dichotomy through an entertaining and comic story about John Adams and Benjamin Franklin that illustrates the clash between those who value knowledge most and those who value inventiveness most.

You may recognize Jack Hitt’s name from his many contributions to NPR’s This American Life. You may also know him from his contributions to The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, or Rolling Stone. Readers who do know his work will not be surprised that Bunch of Amateurs is a funny and charming account, full of wonder, interesting ideas, and engaging characters. Check out a copy and enjoy!

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