American Nerd: The Story of My People

Benjamin Nugent, Author . Scribner $20 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7432-8801-9

In his charming and disarmingly serious study of the history of the “nerd” in popular culture and throughout modern history, Nugent (Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing ) succeeds in crafting a nuanced discussion without resorting to smugness or excessive cleverness. His prose is straightforward, but the writing is never dry, as Nugent maintains a brisk pace by chasing an entertaining series of tangents across short chapters. Discrete pockets of nerd-dom are carefully observed and analyzed, with an eye for connections that lead to unusual places. While there are engaging sections about more obvious nerd subjects like the rise of online gaming and the history of American science-fiction clubs, Nugent takes his book in surprising directions, such as the ethnic implications of the “nerd” categorization, particularly in regard to Jewish and Asian stereotypes. In one chapter, Nugent finds correspondence between nerdiness and people with Asperger's syndrome, astutely drawing comparisons between the socializing problems experienced by both groups and positing that many of those considered “nerds” historically might in fact be on the autism spectrum. Another unexpected detour, this one into the intense subculture of high school and college debaters, turns into an extraordinarily poignant meditation on the friendships engendered by shared passions. Swinging ably from personal anecdotes to historical perspective, Nugent's exploration of outcasts is a triumph. (May)

Reviewed on: 02/11/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4165-6551-2
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