Image of "The Amateur" by Andy Merrifield, a white cover with colorful paint splotches along the perimeter

The Amateur


Published: 2017

ISBN: 9781786631060

Ordinary citizens would do well to cast a critical eye over the doings of our professional democracy. One issue is how the proving amateur today needs to be a sophisticated forensic scientist, a skilled lawyer and an able accountant—if only to keep track of all those professionally negotiated contracts and secret equations, those abstruse labels and reams of legal small print.”

—Andy Merrifield, The Amateur, p. 130


What is an “amateur,” and what distinguishes them from what we think of as an “expert,” a “professional,” a master of one’s craft; someone who “deserves” the greatest platform and the privilege of defining the criteria for being a “professional” in one’s field or hobby of choice?

Andy Merrifield’s The Amateur explores what it means to be an amateur, an outsider who loves their craft for the sake of loving it, usually without any expectation of generating income or influence from it. The amateur’s contrast, the professional, is an expert in their field, often believing they have nothing new to learn and are the end-all, be-all of their subject.

While the text resonated with me in many ways, I ironically found the text to be a bit dense and inaccessible to the average reader. I’ve always had a gripe with theory and philosophy in that it’s much too formal and academic to allow most to grasp the enlightening message of passion being praxis and for us to collectively find joy in doing what makes us happy—not what makes us the most money. Someone who enjoys Verso books will, of course, probably be more open to taking the time to read and thoroughly absorb important themes and takeaways, but even then, I found myself needing to pause and take notes or write down a new vocab word I hadn’t yet come across (maybe I just suck at vocab to be fair, *shrug*).

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but I do wish that any book seeking to get readers politically motivated would be more accessible to someone who may not have the time or energy to sit with the text the way I felt I needed to in order to grasp it. I enjoyed Merrifield’s takes on the political and corporate landscape right now, but I was less captivated by the biographical aspects of the books covering previous leftist thinkers and scholars. Merrifield ties their thoughts back to his greater point about the amateur versus the professional and why there’s power in being an amateur, but I found his more personal insights more captivating and would have preferred more of the book to focus on that.

I’ll admit that I DNF’d the book. I enjoyed what I did read, but I’m trying to learn to just move on when I’m not feeling a book anymore, and this one I just felt I’d gotten enough of the point by the time I reached page 140/240. I’d recommend it if you’re really looking to delve into Merrifield’s insights into the casualization of neoliberal austerity in every aspect of our lives, how the ruling class gatekeep our passions and built a growing “technocracy” that leaves most of us working pencil pushing at jobs that don’t fulfill us. And all for a mysterious corporate overlord that most of us never see or even know about.

Good read, though I wish it was a bit more focused, and again, a bit more accessible considering the importance of its message.


Favorite/Most Interesting Quotes: 

“Imagine, then, how such obscure resources might become less obscure and more available: eliminate control measures against the unemployed, shut down all those agencies that manipulate statistics and keep tabs, and lay off those professional managers.” (p. 108)


“Now, a diverse array of professionals administers the privatizations and sell-offs, calling the economic shots as they draft the private contracts in which the public sector always seems destined to lose out.” (p. 128)


“Work for most people means time spent doing something that has absolutely no meaning for the doer.” (p. 110)


[Professionals] seem to want to do everything except attack property speculation and impugn the market; they refuse to acknowledge resource scarcity as the socially produced reality it is, artificially created, defined through access to wealth and monopoly power.” (p. 75)

By The Angry Noodle

Bryanna Gary is the founder of The Angry Noodle. She is very smol and noodly, and also dipped in pasta sauce.

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