Best Weller's Pick

Every other month the staff of Weller Book Works nominates and then votes on books we deem worthy of extra attention, our Best Weller's selection. We discount these books to you by 20% during the months for which they're chosen because we believe in them.

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2017

Staff Pick Logo
The Amateur: The Pleasures of Doing What You Love Cover Image
$19.96
ISBN: 9781786631060
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Verso - May 23rd, 2017

The word "amateur" comes from the Latin "amator," which means "lover." Contemporaneously, "amateur" is more often used as a pejorative epithet. However, Andy Merrifield wants us to reinvoke the connotation of the lover when we think of amateurs.

 

 
One of Merrifield's central aims is to demonstrate why and how 'experts' have become lionized while amateurs, ordinary citizens, have been marginalized. Part of the answer: Big Data and the corporatization of news media and public services. For example, in the 1970s, New York City hired the services of the RAND corporation to help make firefighting services more efficient. I cannot detail all of the evidence presented in the book, but in short, RAND attempted to quantify the unquantifiable when they tried to determine which fire stations were cost-effective. They could not account for every factor and ultimately eliminated crucial fire stations in the South Bronx. Unsurprisingly, entire neighborhoods burned down after the experts finished their analysis.
 
This is only one instance Merrifield uses to counter the belief that corporations and their experts make public services more efficient. More than just a rejoinder to capitalist, so-called 'pragmatic' technocracy, The Amateur is a celebration of independent thinking and square-peg, leftist politics. Merrifield argues that the lionization of corporate experts is killing curious, independent thinking in almost all spheres of life. He argues that we need to remember and revive the spirit of the amateur, a figure we have unfairly maligned in recent decades. From Franz Kafka to Jane Jacobs, Walter Benjamin to Rachel Carson, Merrifield provides hopeful, historical examples of amateurs who undermined the enemies of independence and curiosity. These people were always on the outskirts of expert circles. It was this outsider perspective and their love for something that allowed them to change the world.
 
Indeed, Merrifield waxes romantic at times; a small short-coming. Nonetheless, bottom-up dissent is an important tool in a struggle against large, corporate elements. Top-down ideologies that privilege expert pundits effectively bar the ordinary citizen from participation in the polis. The Amateur is a call to action as much as it is an erudite study. Across history, revolutions in philosophy, politics, and the arts began with people who were outside of an expert circle. Oftentimes, society vilified these independent thinkers, only to later recognize them for their contributions. People who loved something enough to become involved and criticize the status quo have paved new ways of thinking and living. We can do the same, but only when we embrace doing what we love over doing what seems practical, easy, and 'efficient.' This book is a timely reminder of, not only how to change the present, but also that the present will change. It is up to us to make sure it changes for the better.
-- Holden Rassmussen