cover image Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character

Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character

Jack Hitt. Crown, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-307-39375-3

Award-winning This American Life contributor and journalist Hitt (Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain) writes a love letter to American culture in his latest. Focusing on amateurs (self-trained experts and famous dropouts), Hitt ties the proliferation of self-made success stories to something intrinsically American. From ornithology to astronomy, Hitt chronicles figures whose success stories are often sugarcoated to make them seem less bizarre, and often less interesting, than they are in the author’s capable hands. A chapter on a “kitchen biologist” ’s attempts to integrate a glow-in-the-dark gene into bacteria to cultivate yogurt (“glo-gurt”) makes the science understandable, the days of tests a collage of comical trial and error catastrophes, and the possibility for world-changing breakthroughs almost tangible. Most interesting are the contemporary examples, including how a Web site used amateur astrologers to assist in cataloguing images of space, or how corporations and even the government often pull their pool of employees from hobbyists and basement tinkerers. As fascinating as it is inspiring, this hilarious book is a tour de force that celebrates troublemakers, risk takers, and the American spirit. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (May)