Real-Life Revenge of the Nerds

A new book suggests that teenage outcasts are the most likely to succeed as adults.

book cover
(Image credit: Archives)

She's tackled college sororities, secret societies, and student overachievers. In her new book, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, journalist Alexandra Robbins takes on the greatest social minefield of all: the high school cafeteria. She spent a year studying seven students in schools across the country (the band geek, the loner, the weird girl, the nerd, the new girl, the gamer, the popular bitch) to gather evidence for her "Quirk Theory." We asked her what it's all about.

What exactly is Quirk Theory?

It's my theory that the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits that others will value in that person in adulthood. It's based on years of meeting thousands of students and adults for various books, articles, and lectures. I consistently found that the people I was most drawn to — the ones who were most successful in life — were rarely part of the in crowd in high school.

Who are some famous former geeks?

Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Taylor Swift. She was harassed and excluded in high school because she liked country music. Lady Gaga felt like a freak in school; she didn't conform. Angelina Jolie was a punk outsider. Bruce Springsteen, Tim Gunn, Pete Wentz, JK Rowling — they all have similar tales.

In your research, you challenged your seven students to move in new social circles. What surprised you most?

I hadn't expected that the popular bitch would be so stunned when the popular girls turned the same mean-girl behavior on her that she'd done to other students. She really had no idea how crappy it felt to be on the receiving end.

Do teachers have their own cliques?

Yes, there's something about the school environment that makes teachers want to be cool. Some definitely cater to the popular kids; others separate themselves into cliques, with names. One group had pink T-shirts that said "TADA!" It stood for "Teachers Against Dumb Asses." I'm not clear on what it meant, but often the teacher cliques are against other teachers. The teachers' lounge is just as much of a lion's den as the cafeteria. There's the mean teacher, cool teacher, bully teacher.

Just like Glee!

Yes, but without the singing.

Abigail Pesta is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes for major publications around the world. She is the author of The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down.