“A love letter to American culture…as fascinating as it is inspiring, this hilarious book is a tour de force that celebrates troublemakers, risk takers, and the American spirit.”--Publishers Weekly
“Hitt is smarter than Malcolm Gladwell, a better storyteller than his colleagues at This American Life, and a better reporter than any big name you can think of.” --Baltimore City Paper
“I ask myself if there's a better non-fiction writer in America than Jack Hitt . . . and come up with nobody. I've been following and stealing from his work my whole career. His usual mode is to convince you that you're reading a rollicking yarn, while with his left hand building a serious and unexpectedly persuasive argument. In Bunch of Amateurs he brings that to perfection. The book is about cranks, but it is also about the strange crucible of social tensions and intellectual assumptions inside of which our ‘knowledge’ gets made.” --John Jeremiah Sullivan
"Hitt is a virtuoso storyteller and a skilled distiller of complex subjects." --New York Times
"How embarrassing it is to be asked to craft a blurb for Jack Hitt. I'm not fit to carry his bags. Few writers are. Bunch of Amateurs is completely sublime; beautifully written, hilarious, brushfire protean in the erudite shifts he makes--high culture, low, science, history, music, you name it--and just wonderfully rollicking. Who else can have one simultaneously laughing out loud and waiting with bated breath for Benjamin Franklin to alight from a carriage in Paris in 1778? No one but Jack Hitt, that's who. Like I said, it shames me to endorse him, so unfit to the task am I, but endorse him I must. I have no choice. You must read this book." --David Rakoff
"Jack Hitt is a latter-day Twain: a Southern storyteller and Yankee skeptic who slaughters sacred cows with unfailing wit and a childlike sense of wonder at the world. This makes him the perfect guide to the wacky yet inspiring universe of American inventiveness. Hitt's playfully profound book had me laughing with pride at the amateur in us all." --Tony Horwitz
“…a fabulous tribute to amateurs….This is a totally absorbing gallery of oddballs and obsessives on the brink of possibly great discoveries, written by a man with a deep appreciation for amateurs and their pursuits.” –Booklist
A guide through the sometimes-consequential, sometimes-zany realm of amateurs. Veteran journalist Hitt (Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route into Spain, 2005, etc.) posits that various brands of amateurism conceived in the interest of advancing knowledge offer meaningful insights into a uniquely American character. The narrative thread holds together nicely through chapters focusing on the legendary amateurism of Benjamin Franklin, birdwatchers seeking the ivory-billed woodpecker, inventors of various gadgets, genealogists, archaeologists, astronomers and linguists. Hitt wisely concedes that other nations harbor amateurs, as well, but he maintains that American amateurs are notable for their comfort with exploration and with rebelling against authority. Elsewhere in the world, where socioeconomic status is often hardwired at birth, the word "amateur" suggests class warfare. In the United States, the word often carries a hint of adventure. Searching for lasting answers, Hitt studies business theory, providing a serious explanation that outsiders are often not hidebound by the curse of knowledge. In other words, when it comes to reconceiving a workplace, an industry, a charitable endeavor or some other institution, perhaps ignorance sometimes can be considered bliss. Knowing almost nothing about something can become the catalyst driving breakthrough discoveries. When talented amateurs receive positive recognition for their accomplishments, such as the "genius grants" provided annually by the MacArthur Foundation, the white heat of innovation might be kindled further. Hitt inserts himself into the narrative as he meets with living amateurs and discovers newly released material about deceased amateurs. The first-person approach is usually effective because it generates passion about the possibilities of the intellect. A quirky approach to a fresh way of looking at the human animal.