Bunch of Amateurs by Jack Hitt | Book review
American inventors tackle glow-in-the-dark yogurt.
Here is a sentence from New York Times Magazine writer Hitt’s new book: “Around midnight in San Francisco, Patterson and I are on the floor with our fortieth or fiftieth attempt at configuring the 2500-volt transformer so that we can Taser the lactobacillus, get the glow gene in there, and proceed to make Glo-gurt with it.”
What’s happening is just as described: Hitt is assisting a San Francisco woman named Meredith Patterson, an “off-the-grid scientist,” who is attempting to splice the glow-in-the-dark plasmid of deep-sea fish with yogurt, because she “thought it would be cool.” Patterson is one of the many nonprofessional inventors, hackers and off-the-grid innovators who populate Hitt’s book. But what’s most telling about the sentence quoted above is that Hitt and Patterson are a team, working together on a 50th attempt to make glowing yogurt. Hitt is completely without journalistic remove in his assessment and participation in Patterson’s quixotic project.
And this is what makes Bunch of Amateurs such an engaging read. It would be tempting—and practically part of the job description‚ for about 95 percent of glossy-magazine writers working today—to mock, say, the man trying to invent a better telescope out of his RV. Hitt writes entertainingly about each of his subjects, and traces the roots of America’s inventive spirit all the way back to Benjamin Franklin. But his pro tip to fellow journalists would be to dispassionately assess the project and its chances of success, while passionately capturing its spirit.