Summary: David Anderegg’s Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them is an excellent study of why nerds and geeks are both derided and praised in modern American society from the perspective of a child psychologist. This book discusses in detail the impact of nerdiness on perceptions of social acceptance and masculinity. It misses discussing the differering impact of nerd culture, based on other aspects of identity, specifically on girls, those who are working class, and on those who seem nerdy but aren’t.
Anderegg states that there are five overall aspects to the stereotype of nerdiness:
(a) unsexy, (b) interested in technology, (c) uninterested in their personal appearance, (d) enthusiastic about stuff that bores everyone else, and (e) persecuted by nonnerds [such as] jocks.
I think the fact that Anderegg leaves out the most important aspect of nerddom to me — intelligence (or perceived intelligence). This doesn’t neatly fall into the “interested in technology” or enthusiastic about boring stuff categories.
Throughout the book, Anderegg discusses through both clinical anecdotes and theory why the statement that words can’t hurt doesn’t apply — especially in the seemingly neverending cruelty that is middle school. He asks parents to have a greater understanding of the great pressure kids are under from contradictory messages:
We act like it is all in good fun to communicate to our kids that people who are smart and do well in school and like science fiction and computers are also people who smell bad and look ugly and are so repulsive that they are not allowed to have girlfriends.
But notice how this statement excludes from nerddom, both straight female nerds and gay nerds! The book discusses several of the fandom interests of nerds, including Star Trek, online MMPORGs like Word of Warcraft, and more traditional role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
While girl nerds do participate in these activities, I am surprised that experiences and activities that tend to attract girl nerds are not discussed, including long-running fandom traditions such as fanfiction (Harry Potter is only mentioned as a positive nerd exemplar) and more recent ones like LOLCats. And no mention of nerdcore?!
But this book is not an anthropological study of nerds; it is more about how to help parents, teachers, and psychologists help the nerds (and perceived nerds) in their life.
This book was discussed on an episode of Wisconsin Public Radio’s To the Best of our Knowledge, “Revenge of the Nerds” (The other nerd book discussed on the episode, Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People, will be reviewed here later).
Nerds: Who They Are is available in many libraries, and the ISBNs are 9781585425907 1585425907