Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character
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WHAT IS IT THAT DRIVES THE SUCCESS OF AMERICA AND THE IDENTITY OF ITS PEOPLE? ACCLAIMED WRITER AND CONTRIBUTING EDITOR TO THIS AMERICAN LIFE JACK HITT THINKS IT’S BECAUSE WE’RE ALL A BUNCH OF AMATEURS.
America’s self-invented tinkerers are back at it in their metaphorical garages—fiddling with everything from solar-powered cars to space elevators. In Bunch of Amateurs, Jack Hitt visits a number of different garages and has written a fascinating book that looks at America’s current batch of amateurs and their pursuits. From a tattooed young woman in the Bay Area trying to splice a fish’s glow-in-the-dark gene into common yogurt (all done in her kitchen using salad spinners)
to a space fanatic on the brink of developing the next generation of telescopes from his mobile home, Hitt not only tells the stories of people in the grip of a passion but argues that America’s history is bound up in a cycle of amateur surges.
Beginning with Ben Franklin’s kite and leading all the way to the current TV hit American Idol, Hitt argues that the nation’s
love of self-invented obsessives has always driven the country to rediscover the true heart of the American dream. Amateur pursuits are typically lamented as a world that just passed until a Sergey Brin or Mark Zuckerberg steps out of his garage (or dorm room) with the rare but crucial success story. In Bunch of Amateurs, Hitt argues that America is now poised to pioneer at another frontier that will lead, one more time, to the newest version of the American dream.
story that’s getting told right now about the earliest inhabitants of this continent. I have a little experience in this field. I know how to jerry-rig a narrative using only a couple of wayward factoids to make it sound just right. It’s something I was born to do. It’s in my royal blood. I am the direct descendant of King Charlemagne. V. Ladies and Gentlemen, Kennewick Man For most of the 1990s, the sotto voce chatter about pre-Clovis man and his possible identity was little more than
look, race exists. If you were to look at me, you would easily categorize me as Caucasian. I’m the ruddy sort that burns quickly, with reddish hair now shading into white. Most people hazarding a guess might say Scots-Irish, which is what I have always said. Just to be sure, I once submitted my DNA to see what the incontrovertible scientific evidence might show. The result was surprising: I carry the DNA marker found in great abundance among the Fulani Tribe of contemporary Nigeria. Sure, maybe
stories have authors, as we conceive them. Stories arose from the collective culture, accrued a kind of truth over time. For that reason alone, they were sacred and had real power to move people. Belief is what keeps any tribe together. Today we’ve split storytelling into two modes—fiction and nonfiction. And we’ve split our reading that way as well. The idea of the lone author writing truth has completely vanquished the other side of storytelling—the collectively conjured account. I think we
statistically arcane geographies might cool the entire system to a temperature somewhat on the more habitable side of 100,000,000°K. In that wan blemish of the time-space continuum, earthlike conditions form and then, equally unlikely, give rise to life and then, perhaps extremely less likely, conscious life. Some have examined these stunning odds and concluded that the purpose of the universe is not merely to rarely burp up a fleck of life, but that intelligent life is destined to dominate the
atmosphere of carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor—indicating possibly that something there is breathing. Only a few years ago, the obsession of the mainstream media was asteroids and NEOs that might strike earth. Those are still sources of excitement, but the shift in pop culture toward fascination with exoplanets is under way, although the topic remains to go mega-public. That may be because exoplanets don’t blow anything up or because Will Smith hasn’t made a movie about them yet. Among