In “Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character,” Jack Hitt investigates the tradition of American amateurism in various fields, from politics to astronomy to bird watching.
Q. Why might we look back at this time in history as one of the golden ages of amateurism?
A. My argument about the cycle of amateurism is that it often cranks back up when the economy goes sour and people drift off to that backyard temple of ingenuity. Hewlett-Packard was formed in David Packard’s garage in 1938 at the height of the Depression. Is it a coincidence that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak hid out in a Cupertino, Calif., garage during the dog days of Gerald Ford’s “whip inflation now” economy in 1976 and improvised the first desktop computer? The April jobs report for 2012 saw an increase of 119,000 new employees. Only 4,000 of those derived from large firms. Small businesses and startups were responsible for 58,000 of those jobs.