Sunday, July 6, 2008

American Nerd

As I continue my reconnecting with my inner nerd, Benjamin Nugent's American Nerd provided an interesting stroll down memory lane. The book chronicles the history of nerdiness and the many pursuits and passions that makes one a nerd. Nugent does a good job of outlining the history of the term and shows how such literary giants as Mary Shelly, Jane Austin, and E.M. Forester set the standard for future depictions of the nerd.

The most powerful theme of the book explores the contrast between the nerd and the jock stereotype. The jock is the child of the movement known as "muscular Christianity" in the 19th century. Teddy Roosevelt and "Tom Brown's Schooldays" set the standard for the idea of a "well-balanced" gentleman who stood in stark contrast to the weak and effect intellectual. This contrast reflects the 19th and early 20th century fears that elite W.A.S.P.s were being overwhelmed by more intellectually capable Jews and East Asians.

The book is a bit uneven and Nugent's treatment of video games, and debating don't really add up to much. Still in all, the book is thought-provoking and his discussion of "cool nerds" is pretty funny.

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