For starters, I suggest ignoring the title. This book has nothing to do with "how nerds can save America, and why they might be our last hope." Rather, it's more of an argument (or rant) against anti-intellectualism in the US. Psychologist David Anderegg explores the origins and perpetuation of the (almost exclusively American) "nerd" stereotype, while making a compelling argument that this characterization began as far back as the early 1800's, stemming from a false dichotomy of "Man of Action" vs "Man of Introspection." You can be a bookish dweeb or a courageous, attractive, and admirable stud. But you can't be both, or even some reasonable compromise between the two. Or so this lazy, bifurcated way of thinking goes.
Dr. Anderegg points out that this way of thinking (or not thinking, really) is the cause of anti-intellectualism having deep roots in American society. He also argues that while our adults are laughing off--even ironically enjoying--nerdiness, the social stigma is still very real for young people. And for the "tween" generation, with its preoccupation with being older, younger and younger children are worried about being stuck with the label. For previous generations, at least kids could still be kids, but now things like crystal radios, coin collecting, and scouting are socially unsafe even for elementary school-age children. This does not bode well for our country's future, argues Anderegg. If math, science, and even learning in general are eschewed for fear of being unhip, where will we get tomorrow's scientists, engineers, doctors, and teachers?
Anderegg questions why working on a car's engine is considered manly and cool, but tinkering with a computer is nerdy. This is a glaring inconsistency in the anti-intellectual social stigma. But then, in the same vein, he begins to discuss the hobby of fly fishing. Fly fishing is considered admirable and masculine. It is, at worst, considered boring--but never nerdy, despite involving the intricate study of aquatic insects to make and use convincing lures to catch fish. Anderegg compares fly fishing (manly and cool) to... watching Star Trek (nerdy). Why compare these two things? That's not even apples and oranges; that's apples and flamingos. Why not compare collecting, studying, and mounting insects for fly fishing (manly and cool) to collecting, studying, and mounting insects for entomology (nerdy)? Missed opportunities and poorly thought-out arguments like this made the book frustrating for me to get through.
"Nerds" also suffers from some odd tangents about a range of subjects, from the 2000 presidential election, to the sexualization of children, to his thoughts on current trends in psychology. (In case you were wondering: ADD is over-diagnosed, and evolutionary psychology is dubious.) He almost always has some way of tying these things into his overall thesis, but this usually takes so long as to muddle whatever his original point was.
During one of his psychologist rants, I was baffled by Anderegg's treatment of Apserger's syndrome. He argues that speculation about whether the likes of Bill Gates, Thomas Jefferson, and other famous figures have/had Asperger's syndrome is an attempt to smear intelligent people as abnormal or damaged. He writes that people who are successful clearly can't have a disorder because they are successful--and thus, no "disorder"! As someone with Asperger's syndrome (someone who has had some success in life, I feel), I am offended by this treatment of Asperger's. I also wonder if Dr. Anderegg would argue that Abraham Lincoln didn't suffer from depression, and Ernest Hemingway didn't suffer from PTSD. These men were successful, so by his logic, they clearly couldn't have fit the diagnosis of any disorder, right?
The take-home message of "Nerds" is this: "Anti-intellectualism is bad." Dr. Anderegg makes some great points--some important points--but for the most part, he makes them poorly.