Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

3.5 24
by Matthew B. Crawford
     
 

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A philosopher/mechanic's wise (and sometimes funny) look at the challenges and pleasures of working with one's hands

Called "the sleeper hit of the publishing season" (The Boston Globe), Shop Class as Soulcraft became an instant bestseller, attracting readers with its radical (and timely) reappraisal of the merits of skilled manual labor.

Overview

A philosopher/mechanic's wise (and sometimes funny) look at the challenges and pleasures of working with one's hands

Called "the sleeper hit of the publishing season" (The Boston Globe), Shop Class as Soulcraft became an instant bestseller, attracting readers with its radical (and timely) reappraisal of the merits of skilled manual labor. On both economic and psychological grounds, author Matthew B. Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a "knowledge worker," based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing. Using his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford presents a wonderfully articulated call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It's appropriate that [Shop Class as Soulcraft] arrives in May, the month when college seniors commence real life. Skip Dr. Seuss, or a tie from Vineyard Vines, and give them a copy for graduation.... It's not an insult to say that Shop Class is the best self-help book that I've ever read. Almost all works in the genre skip the "self" part and jump straight to the "help." Crawford rightly asks whether today's cubicle dweller even has a respectable self....It's kind of like Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
-Slate

"Matt Crawford's remarkable book on the morality and metaphysics of the repairman looks into the reality of practical activity. It is a superb combination of testimony and reflection, and you can't put it down."
-Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard University

"Every once in a great while, a book will come along that's brilliant and true and perfect for its time. Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft is that kind of book, a prophetic and searching examination of what we've lost by ceasing to work with our hands-and how we can get it back. During this time of cultural anxiety and reckoning, when the conventional wisdom that has long driven our wealthy, sophisticated culture is foundering amid an economic and spiritual tempest, Crawford's liberating volume appears like a lifeboat on the horizon."
-Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots

"This is a deep exploration of craftsmanship by someone with real, hands-on knowledge. The book is also quirky, surprising, and sometimes quite moving."
-Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman

"Matt Crawford has written a brave and indispensable book. By making a powerful case for the enduring value of the manual trades, Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a bracing alternative to the techno-babble that passes for conventional wisdom, and points the way to a profoundly necessary reconnection with the material world. No one who cares about the future of human work can afford to ignore this book."
-Jackson Lears, Editor in Chief, Raritan

"We are on the verge of a national renewal. It will have more depth and grace if we read Crawford's book carefully and take it to heart. He is a sharp theorist, a practicing mechanic, and a captivating writer."
-Albert Borgmann, author of Real American Ethics

"Shop Class as Soulcraft is easily the most compelling polemic since The Closing of the American Mind. Crawford offers a stunning indictment of the modern workplace, detailing the many ways it deadens our senses and saps our vitality. And he describes how our educational system has done violence to our true nature as 'homo faber'. Better still, Crawford points in the direction of a richer, more fulfilling way of life. This is a book that will endure."
-Reihan Salam, associate editor at The Atlantic, co-author of Grand New Party

"Crawford reveals the satisfactions of the active craftsman who cultivates his own judgment, rather than being a passive consumer subject to manipulated fantasies of individuality and creativity."
- Nathan Tarcov, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of making and fixing things in this masterful paean to what he calls "manual competence," the ability to work with one's hands. According to the author, our alienation from how our possessions are made and how they work takes many forms: the decline of shop class, the design of goods whose workings cannot be accessed by users (such as recent Mercedes models built without oil dipsticks) and the general disdain with which we regard the trades in our emerging "information economy." Unlike today's "knowledge worker," whose work is often so abstract that standards of excellence cannot exist in many fields (consider corporate executives awarded bonuses as their companies sink into bankruptcy), the person who works with his or her hands submits to standards inherent in the work itself: the lights either turn on or they don't, the toilet flushes or it doesn't, the motorcycle roars or sputters. With wit and humor, the author deftly mixes the details of his own experience as a tradesman and then proprietor of a motorcycle repair shop with more philosophical considerations.
- Publishers Weekly, Starred review

Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Crawford presents a fascinating, important analysis of the value of hard work and manufacturing. He reminds readers that in the 1990s vocational education (shop class) started to become a thing of the past as U.S. educators prepared students for the "knowledge revolution." Thus, an entire generation of American "thinkers" cannot, he says, do anything, and this is a threat to manufacturing, the fundamental backbone of economic development. Crawford makes real the experience of working with one's hands to make and fix things and the importance of skilled labor. His philosophical background is evident as he muses on how to live a pragmatic, concrete life in today's ever more abstract world and issues a clarion call for reviving trade and skill development classes in American preparatory schools. The result is inspired social criticism and deep personal exploration. Crawford's work will appeal to fans of Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and should be required reading for all educational leaders. Highly recommended; Crawford's appreciation for various trades may intrigue readers with white collar jobs who wonder at the end of each day what they really accomplished.
- Library Journal

Francis Fukuyama
Shop Class as Soulcraft is a beautiful little book about human excellence and the way it is undervalued in contemporary America.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Max Bloomquist brings his considerable talents to Crawford's meditation on the meaning of work and disparity between “blue collar” and “white collar” occupations. Crawford draws on his own experience—he quit a miserable think tank job and has found joy and meaning working as a motorcycle mechanic—to question the presumed value of the cubicle working world, deplore society's disconnection from the material world and vividly convey the reward of working with one's hands. Bloomquist reads with authority and erudition; his steady, everyman narration makes Crawford's well-founded arguments even more persuasive. A Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 20). (June)
Library Journal

Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Crawford presents a fascinating, important analysis of the value of hard work and manufacturing. He reminds readers that in the 1990s vocational education (shop class) started to become a thing of the past as U.S. educators prepared students for the "knowledge revolution." Thus, an entire generation of American "thinkers" cannot, he says, do anything, and this is a threat to manufacturing, the fundamental backbone of economic development. Crawford makes real the experience of working with one's hands to make and fix things and the importance of skilled labor. His philosophical background is evident as he muses on how to live a pragmatic, concrete life in today's ever more abstract world and issues a clarion call for reviving trade and skill development classes in American preparatory schools. The result is inspired social criticism and deep personal exploration. Crawford's work will appeal to fans of Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and should be required reading for all educational leaders. Highly recommended; Crawford's appreciation for various trades may intrigue readers with white collar jobs who wonder at the end of each day what they really accomplished.
—Dale Farris

Michael Agger
It's not an insult to say that Shop Class is the best self-help book that I've ever read....It's kind of like Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
—Slate

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143117469
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/27/2010
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
195,704
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"It's appropriate that [Shop Class as Soulcraft] arrives in May, the month when college seniors commence real life. Skip Dr. Seuss, or a tie from Vineyard Vines, and give them a copy for graduation.... It's not an insult to say that Shop Class is the best self-help book that I've ever read. Almost all works in the genre skip the "self" part and jump straight to the "help." Crawford rightly asks whether today's cubicle dweller even has a respectable self....It's kind of like Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
-Slate

"Matt Crawford's remarkable book on the morality and metaphysics of the repairman looks into the reality of practical activity. It is a superb combination of testimony and reflection, and you can't put it down."
-Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard University

"Every once in a great while, a book will come along that's brilliant and true and perfect for its time. Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft is that kind of book, a prophetic and searching examination of what we've lost by ceasing to work with our hands-and how we can get it back. During this time of cultural anxiety and reckoning, when the conventional wisdom that has long driven our wealthy, sophisticated culture is foundering amid an economic and spiritual tempest, Crawford's liberating volume appears like a lifeboat on the horizon."
-Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots

"This is a deep exploration of craftsmanship by someone with real, hands-on knowledge. The book is also quirky, surprising, and sometimes quite moving."
-Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman

"Matt Crawford has written a brave and indispensable book. By making a powerful case for the enduring value of the manual trades, Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a bracing alternative to the techno-babble that passes for conventional wisdom, and points the way to a profoundly necessary reconnection with the material world. No one who cares about the future of human work can afford to ignore this book."
-Jackson Lears, Editor in Chief, Raritan

"We are on the verge of a national renewal. It will have more depth and grace if we read Crawford's book carefully and take it to heart. He is a sharp theorist, a practicing mechanic, and a captivating writer."
-Albert Borgmann, author of Real American Ethics

"Shop Class as Soulcraft is easily the most compelling polemic since The Closing of the American Mind. Crawford offers a stunning indictment of the modern workplace, detailing the many ways it deadens our senses and saps our vitality. And he describes how our educational system has done violence to our true nature as 'homo faber'. Better still, Crawford points in the direction of a richer, more fulfilling way of life. This is a book that will endure."
-Reihan Salam, associate editor at The Atlantic, co-author of Grand New Party

"Crawford reveals the satisfactions of the active craftsman who cultivates his own judgment, rather than being a passive consumer subject to manipulated fantasies of individuality and creativity."
- Nathan Tarcov, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of making and fixing things in this masterful paean to what he calls "manual competence," the ability to work with one's hands. According to the author, our alienation from how our possessions are made and how they work takes many forms: the decline of shop class, the design of goods whose workings cannot be accessed by users (such as recent Mercedes models built without oil dipsticks) and the general disdain with which we regard the trades in our emerging "information economy." Unlike today's "knowledge worker," whose work is often so abstract that standards of excellence cannot exist in many fields (consider corporate executives awarded bonuses as their companies sink into bankruptcy), the person who works with his or her hands submits to standards inherent in the work itself: the lights either turn on or they don't, the toilet flushes or it doesn't, the motorcycle roars or sputters. With wit and humor, the author deftly mixes the details of his own experience as a tradesman and then proprietor of a motorcycle repair shop with more philosophical considerations.
- Publishers Weekly, Starred review

Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Crawford presents a fascinating, important analysis of the value of hard work and manufacturing. He reminds readers that in the 1990s vocational education (shop class) started to become a thing of the past as U.S. educators prepared students for the "knowledge revolution." Thus, an entire generation of American "thinkers" cannot, he says, do anything, and this is a threat to manufacturing, the fundamental backbone of economic development. Crawford makes real the experience of working with one's hands to make and fix things and the importance of skilled labor. His philosophical background is evident as he muses on how to live a pragmatic, concrete life in today's ever more abstract world and issues a clarion call for reviving trade and skill development classes in American preparatory schools. The result is inspired social criticism and deep personal exploration. Crawford's work will appeal to fans of Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and should be required reading for all educational leaders. Highly recommended; Crawford's appreciation for various trades may intrigue readers with white collar jobs who wonder at the end of each day what they really accomplished.
- Library Journal

Meet the Author

Matthew B. Crawford is a philosopher and mechanic. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and served as a postdoctoral fellow on its Committee on Social Thought. Currently a fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, he owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.

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Shop Class as Soulcraft 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
NJMetal More than 1 year ago
I preform physical blue collar mechanical related labor for a living so I figured I would readily identify with this book. What I did not realize was how deeply steeped in philosophy this book really is. This book takes deeper philosophical journies into basic values and principals of hands-on physical labor to attempt to demonstrate their inherint value over more information based office enviroment type labor. The arguments are well made and studiously supported with citations. However the deeper philosophical explorations are where the book really loses me. Granted, that is where most philosophy related book lose me. I won't hold it against the author. I did find that the conclusion were still very opinionated despite the well supported arguments. I was still not convinced that being a motorcycle mechanic was any more gratifing to the soul then an environmental think tank consultant. It still comes down to point of view, even if the author held a first hand knowedge of both points of view. If you like book like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance then you may well like this. But if that type of book is not your cup of tea this certainly won't be either
cjhTX More than 1 year ago
It has many good ideas but is not well constructed in terms of readability. I had to push myself to finish the book because I felt I had gotten the message early on and continuing to read left little to be gained as it did not entertain me. The message that the value of 'hands-on, physically productive' work is generally not appreciated in our society is valid. Yet, according to the author, in its many forms, it commands a generous income and leaves the producer with a sense of inner satisfaction not found in much of the corporate world where shuffling papers, attending meetings, etc. leaves little real sense of accomplishment/satisfaction. The author's supposition that there will be an increasing need for people who 'fix things' or do the other mundane tasks that keep our cultural substructure going resonates while there is an increasing push by parents that their children attend college to learn to do more 'meaningful' work. College may not be the best choice for everyone.
Meshugenah More than 1 year ago
I expected a lot more of this book. I'm one of those well-educated people who also ditched the corporate world and executive positions to do something where my head and hands worked together. However, I found the author's perspective to be arrogant and pedantic, patronizing and, frankly, oftentimes juvenile. As a philosophical treatise this book is sabotaged by the elements of political diatribe. I would not recommend it to anyone.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Half smart. Well researched. Guy is clearly worried about his manliness and the over compensation makes this a tedious read. Probably best to choose one of his sources e.g. Mike Rose's Minds at Work and read that instead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very insightful. I love how this guy (A Motorcycle Repair Man/Writer) approached his career choices. I will want my kids to go to college and all that, but I'll definately keep some of these insights in mind when advising them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SportCoach More than 1 year ago
In some ways this is an extension of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but only in concept. This book will make you think. It's written with complex sentence structure. Likely can help parents direct kids in choosing satisfying, good work.
JohnK1 More than 1 year ago
This was an ok book, but it could have been written better. The first few chapters were very interesting and enjoyable to reed. The author went on to tell us how blue color work is undervalued and miss under stood in todays society. But after that, the book becomes very dry and some what hard to reed. I began to loose interest and decided to stop reading it all together. Over all, I would recommend a different book if you are interested in reading about the values of blue caller work.
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As an aircraft mech. it made me reevaluate what I do and how I do it. Currently my work place is starting a CI culture and this book has made me take a closer look at that program
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