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Amateurs are the essence of America, says author Jack Hitt

Jack Hitt's
Jack Hitt's "Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character."
Courtesy of Crown

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The love of doing something even if it means no financial reward or recognition is the hallmark of an amateur, says Jack Hitt, author of new book called "Bunch of Amateurs."

Madeleine talked with Jack Hitt and asked why he believes amateurs are the essence of America. For his new book, he traveled around the country meeting amateurs and distilling their experiences into a vision of what this country is.

On why Americans are amateurs:

"In the 'big picture' way, getting in a wagon and driving west and starting a whole new life, or in a small picture way, walking out of your backdoor, and into your garage and trying to tinker something new into existence, that impulse somehow has always been a part of who [Americans] are. I think here, it's part of our national DNA."

On the benefits of amateurism:

"I started looking for ways amateur invention is different. One of the books I came [across] was amateur biology ... these are people tinkering with DNA, the very essence of life itself. And kids are teaching themselves the fundamentals of bio-engineering."

"[For professionals], if you don't succeed ... it looks bad for you, you're fired. There's a kind of hurry, and a real short-term focus in a professional lab. [For amateurs], every failure was a step on the way to success."

"This idea of starting from scratch, and setting aside of all presumptions that you have, and look at something as if you've just seen it for the first time ... seems to be the aspect of creativity that allows [successful amateurs, like Steve Jobs] to see what might work in the marketplace."

Read an excerpt of "A Bunch of Amateurs"


Jack Hitt is a contributor to This American Life, New York Times Magazine and Harper's.