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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character

Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character - Jack Hitt In this entertaining and wide ranging book journalist Jack Hitt explores what it is to be an amateur and why it has been a quintessentially American pursuit since the time of Ben Franklin, a man Hitt sees as a sort of founding father of amateurism. The word amateur came into English from the French word meaning passionate lover, and while amateurs can be off-track or irritatingly obsessed, they sometimes see possibilities more clearly than professionals because they aren’t so invested in the prevalent paradigm. An amateur invented the Dobsonian telescope, making backyard astronomy affordable, backyard rocketry amateurs have been hired by NASA, amateurs like the young Steve Jobs envisioned the personal computer, and it was ardent birding amateurs who spotted flaws in the evidence the Cornel Lab of Ornithology presented to prove that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was not extinct. A recent piece in the Washington Post Magazine profiled an amateur fossil collector in Maryland who has revolutionized the thinking about what sorts of dinosaurs lived in the eastern United States; I'll put the web address for the article in the comments section under this review. According to Hitt, the cutting edge of amateurism today is the scary sounding “biohacking”, or extracting DNA from one life form and inserting it in another in order to achieve sometimes whimsical results, like yogurt that can glow in the dark. It’s apparently bored computer programmers, unexcited by tweaking existing programs like Excel, who are looking for the next frontier and driving this trend. Bunch of Amateurs has plenty of Bill Bryson-like side trips whose purpose isn’t always obvious, at least at first, but they are all so interesting I was happy to see where they led. It was fascinating and somewhat horrifying to read about the sordid origin of the word Caucasian, and Hitt’s descriptions of the distinctly different types of robots being created in America (functional), Japan (physically life-like) and Europe (emotionally intelligent) have embedded cultural observations I’m still trying to parse, and sent me running to internet to see examples .