Book Review: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth (Alexandra Robbins)

Alexandra Robbins has pioneered a new way of looking at social dynamics, particularly in comparison to p0pularity in high school and success in later life. She calls this way of seeing “Quirk Theory,” because as she has studied the high school “outcast caste” she has found that it is these people who have unparalleled success in later life. As her title puts it, the geeks shall inherit the earth.

She argues that the very traits that makes someone an outcast, loser, geek in school are precisely the traits that are cherished by life after high school. This varied bunch of misfits tend to have a strong personal drive, a disregard for the conventional and the done-to-death, an all-consuming passion that drives them, whether it be anime, Star Wars, video games, dressing differently, whatever, that will in life set them outside the pack, send them pressing into unexplored areas of life, jumping the fences telling us to “keep out” and thinking outside of the box that innovation thrives on. 

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is a captivating book, part theory, part praxis. Robbins cleverly interweaves abstract discussion of various subjects with seven or eight personal stories. She followed around, interviewed and documented the senior years of several different high school students around the country, all of whom are outcasts. She lifts the veil on school politics, including the politics between popular students and misfits, students and teachers, teachers and teachers, and schools and parents. The stories are frequently the most interesting element of the book, and which do more to address the real problems in the public school system than most studies. Beset by the problems common to social outcasts, her students struggle with issues of who they are, what they want, friendlessness and loneliness, or social pressure to conform to the standards of “normal.” I must admit that had I gone to public high school I would likely have been just one such outcast, being a fairly large geek myself, and I found myself frequently identifying with their struggles. One of the most interesting sections in the book was the one in which Robbins explodes the “outcasts are dangerous” myth, arguing that the people who shoot up schools are in fact populars or those trying to become populars (she addresses the Columbine shooters as well).

Into the angst and “trapped” feeling of many of these outcasts, Robbins proposes a challenge to each of them that have been uniquely shaped to fit their problems, and then follows their attempts to change their fate. This added narrative twist keeps you pushing through the book. She then periodically profiles famous people, writers, actors, directors and others (chief among them Steven Spielberg) who were all outcasts in school.

All in all, it was an eyeopening journey through the high school system and its dynamics and the struggles which students go through to try and find their place. I understand the outcasts a bit better now, being myself a Geek who is waiting to Inherit the Earth. Recommended.

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