Read Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford Online


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 psychologi 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....

Title : Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
Author :
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ISBN : 9780143117469
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 246 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work Reviews

  • Kevin Kelsey
    2019-04-18 18:29

    It was at times a bit idealistic, but the points that Crawford makes are more often than not valid and worthy of contemplation. He does seem prone to sweeping statements rather than simple conclusions, but aren't we all?The main hypothesis is that thinking and doing are inseparable from each other. And our modern life is obsessed with attempting to separate them. This causes an unnecessary psychic distancing between ourselves and our work value, which in turn affects our fulfillment.I greatly enjoyed his personal account of working as an electrician and mechanic. The notes in the back, marked throughout the book, were both useful references and contained great anecdotal stories that enhanced the overall book. I would recommend reading them in-line with the main text.

  • Ken-ichi
    2019-04-17 20:27

    I’m always wondering why I work (aside from that whole food and shelter thing), so books that try to answer that question draw my attention. While said attention was utterly wasted on Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, it reaped rich rewards from Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, a thoughtful, synthetic, opinionated exploration of manual labor.Crawford argues that society undervalues working with your hands, and that physically manipulating the world demands as much intellectual rigor and is as fulfilling as any other profession, if not more so. He could have ended there, with some polemic about the irrelevance of higher education (and he certainly touches on that), but luckily Crawford isn’t so provincial, and explores the implications of this assertion quite a bit.There’s a whole lot going on in this book, but here are the three ideas that I found most compelling:1) Tacit knowledge is as important as explicit (encodable) knowledge.Tacit knowledge is what you know but can’t communicate, succinctly summed up by the phrase, “you had to be there.” (I learned about this in grad school while reading an excellent essay on the destruction of knowledge related to nuclear weapons in Knowing Machines: Essays on Technical Change) Crawford argues repeatedly that such knowledge is ignored or misunderstood as something that can be replicated by procedure or machines, and I absolutely agree. I see this kind of knowledge in a coworker’s uncanny ability to debug something I’ve struggled with for hours given only a handful of symptoms. I also see it in an experienced naturalist’s ability to identify a weird bug “by gestalt,” or see things in nature that I can’t, even when we’re looking at exactly the same scene. It's also the kind of thing that's difficult to ascertain in a job interview, but is potentially more important than the explicit forms of knowledge that are easily discernible.2) Some forms of cognition are only possible through physical manipulation.Actually, I think Crawford goes further and claims cognition that isn’t directly related to the physical world is misguided. He rags on theory quite a bit. I sympathize with his tirade against a society that aspires to be a bunch of disembodied heads in jars, but I think he goes too far in equating all theorists to the absent-minded professors he derides. However, I totally agree with the underlying notion that doing is a form of thinking. When I’m on the squash court (let’s imagine I still play squash), my mind is alive with angles, velocities, and probabilities that are categorically different than their mathematical equivalents (it is also filled with rage. Don't get me started...). I imagine the same is true of musical performance. Thought is far more than simply getting lost in your own mind.3) Work demonstrates the existence of reality by forcing us to engage objects and forces outside our control (i.e. real things). It also demonstrates our own reality when we alter this external world in ways that can be verified by others.Crawford rails against corporate cultures that enshrine relativistic values like “being a team player,” “positive thinking,” or “creativity.” Manual labor, by contrast, provides a more nuanced understanding of your own capabilities and ultimately more self respect, because it forces you to engage with things outside of your control, like the physical world, or the idiosyncrasies of Japanese motorcycle engineers. “Good” to a motorcycle repairman means the bike is running. There’s no way to redefine that value, and its truth can be proven by anyone.I disagree that this kind of engagement is exclusive to working with your hands, but I think the point is excellent: work that touches the world is the cure for solipsism. It provides an invaluable sense of reality that the self-conscious mind needs (well, mine does). If you’re evaluated based on subjective traits, you never know where you stand, and what you’ve accomplished can always be taken away from you by redefinition. Furthermore, your work demonstrates your reality even more when you're connected to the people who it affects. A customer waiting for his bike to be fixed generates far more poignancy than some distant consumer who may or may not drink the soda produced by the machines your underling's underling's underling's underling oversaw.So, given all that, what would Crawford think of my job, or my life? I generally am not “the master of my own stuff,” and predominantly live in my own head. My primary engagements with the physical world are through cooking, which I assiduously avoid doing in objective (i.e. social) contexts where my food could attain maximum reality, and nature study, which is occasionally tactile, but largely mitigated by a camera lens (and somewhat motivated by a Web-based attention market).However, though he might not recognize it as such, my profession of software engineering is far more akin to motorcycle repair than the kind of subjective perception management he sees in most white collar work. I do make things that real people use, and I am connected to those people. It’s just that the things I make and the connections to the people I make them for are not physical (Howard Rheingold made an important point that "virtual" communities are not virtual in that they aren't real, they're just not physical, though I can't remember if I read that or if he said it in a class). I don’t have the advantage of tactile experience with my subject matter, but I am constantly struggling against systems I did not design and over which I have no control (like Internet Explorer). I operate within constraints, and my work is never perfect, but improves iteratively, and experience grants me both tacit and explicit understanding of successful practices and patterns. Our company culture is a lot more like the shop crew Crawford lauds than the corporate team he despises, perhaps due to the same ability to point to objective reality as the ultimate proof of value. My coworker might, say, have a disturbing obsession with cats, but man, that comment plugin he wrote is seamless, and we never have to fix it.The book isn’t perfect by any means. Crawford occasionally resorts to some distasteful rhetorical techniques, like pushing conservative buttons (“With its reverence for neutral process, liberalism is, by design, a politics of irresponsibility” (p. 45)), or choosing a single example of his opposition then spending pages lambasting it (I’m thinking particularly of his critique of Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class a few pages later on p. 47; maybe it was a bad day). Most of his historical segments also seem to rely heavily on a few, secondary sources (Harry Braverman, T.J. Jackson Lears, Robert Jackall), a practice that doesn’t fill me with confidence.Overall, though, this was exactly the kind of considered, informed analysis I wanted, and while I didn’t always agree with Crawford on every point, those points were excellent provocation to further consideration, and I admire him for stating his opinions openly.

  • Mary
    2019-04-05 14:28

    With each word of this book, I want to jump up and yell, "Huzzah!" I found myself frequently laying the book down and staring out the window, contemplating how wonderful it is to work with one's hands, and more importantly, to learn from another human being, to learn things that cannot be manualized or codified. I am reminded of CS Lewis' essay "Good Work and Good Works" in which he says that the only jobs that are worth doing are the things that people would do for themselves if they didn't have a professional to do it for them. Most of today's office jobs are essentially just like the factory jobs of yesteryear: what matters is not your skill set or particular talents, but how well you fit as a cog in the machine of the company. Work should be engaging, productive, satisfying, and lifelong. This is the type of book that's capable of changing enough minds to really make this happen. Read it!

  • Chris Griger
    2019-03-28 17:16

    I really liked the idea behind this book (or at least what I thought the idea would be from the book cover) - which defended jobs that require real, measurable work over the "information" or "knowledge" work that is so common today. My initial impression was that this could even be targeted towards the high-school student deciding what career to pursue - and after reading a number of technical books, I was looking forward to some lighter reading for a vacation.However, this book started and ended highly philosophically (with plenty more in the middle) - not the easy read that I was looking for. At other times, the author would speak more plainly about some of his work as an electrician or mechanic - which was both interesting and written very well.In the end, I think that the information on the cover misrepresented the book and in general I find myself very frustrated with authors that write things in very complicated ways that could very easily be written in straightforward language, so I was not a big fan of this one.

  • Rob
    2019-04-17 21:10

    Finished. It failed to redeem itself.In general terms, any book which can be summarized as "A treatise on the moral an intellectual virtues of this practice, which I happen to participate" is worthy of some skepticism, but when the subtext might further read "Justifying my life decisions" then you know you're in trouble. This book jumps into this category with both feet.I won't say there are no good ideas in here - the thesis that there is much value to be found in "real" work is one I wholeheartedly support - but this book is mostly wasted space. There is material for a REALLY good essay in here that has been spun out and unnecessarily padded to make an entire book. It is the very quality of this thesis which renders the book so maddening. Every time he comes within sight of a topic that might take the book outside the narrow sphere of justifying his own choices, the matter is touched on briefly, then discarded in favor of the author's experiences, which are interesting, but offer little in the way of real insight. As the author presented his thesis I was full of excitement - this could spill into discussion of the resurgence of maker culture, the growth of open source, the hacker ethos and so many other vibrant modern movements that celebrate this idea of making and working with real things. Sadly, it was not to be, and these experiences are apparently limited solely to the author and those whose work he understands and participates in.In places, they even work against him. One of the brighter points of the text is a dissection of corporate team-building, which is promptly undercut by his tales of his own white collar experience, presented as typical. If you had a college degree and were making 23k a year in Silicon Valley in the 90's, you were not a white collar worker, you were a rube - you could have made more working at Taco Bell. The kind of place that treated workers that way would naturally be exactly the worst kind of environment, and while I'm sorry the author ended up in that situation, he's extrapolated a lot from it.All this might be forgivable if this was a primarily biographical text, but it's not. It's a polemic, and not a very good one. Elements of biography are used well, but then they are used as launching points for rants supporting the author's pet political, social and philosophical ideals. The best thing I can say about this book is that it very successfully refactors a lot of The Communist Manifesto into modern terminology. That sounds facetious, I know - comparing the author's works with Marx seems like an idea out of left field - but it's an almost inescapable conclusion in parts. The author's own citations of Marx and his supporters suggest this may be intentional (it would be more troubling if it was not) but the disdain for intellectuals coupled with the strong emphasis of the strong moral virtues of the worker (a specific sort of worker, in fact) make the comparison inescapable.A number of reviews also left me with the impression that there would be some treatment of the role and value of vocational education. This is simply not the case, which is intensely disappointing. This seems to be one of those books that makes a great summary and is frequently reviewed on the strength of that summary, rather than the far weaker book it represents.

  • Emily
    2019-03-29 20:03

    I was intrigued enough by Matthew Crawford's essay in the NYT magazine to read his entire book, which is called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Imagine an extended meditation, by someone with a Ph.D. who has extensively studied the ancient Greek philosophers, about the meaning of happiness as it relates to finding a satisfying job in the modern world. He has a snappy writing style that might remind you of Michael Kinsley or Sam Harris. There are two groups of people who might want to read the whole book instead of the excerpt linked above: people who aren't sure what to do with their lives and people who enjoy mastering skills.Crawford's discussion skids all over the place and occasionally the book reads like an extended apology for his weird career trajectory. But it feels as though he has pinpointed something elementally true about modern office work and the way it can deprive you of a sense of accomplishment and stability. He identifies the trades (auto repair, plumbing, etc.) as a place where a certain kind of satisfying mastery can be experienced--the feeling of having tried your skill against something unyielding and outside yourself until you have achieved objectively measurable results. While I am not mechanically inclined, he gives other examples that are exactly the kind of thing that I find worthwhile: learning a language or musical instrument, trying to ice-skate, and so forth. These are activities at which it is possible to fail--in fact, you are almost guaranteed to fail at first.The author isn't trying to convince you to become a motorcycle mechanic, like he is, or to reform the education system to raise a new generation of globalization-bucking plumbers. It's thought-provoking and occasionally irritation-provoking. I think it struck a nerve with me because Crawford's point is an elaborate version of one I often try to make. Sometimes leaving a seemingly exciting environment (think tank/literary publishing) for one that seems humble by contrast (workshop/library) makes a lot of sense.Very interesting, but you can get a lot of the point just from reading the NYT excerpt.

  • Brian
    2019-04-08 19:25

    What a disappointment this book was .....I cannot imagine that anyone who ever took a shop class in high school could possibly have enjoyed this book. It was so full of over-analytical philosophizing by a Ph.D. in Philosophy who decided to quit the "think tank" rat race of academia to run a shop doing motor cycling repair. I applaud him for knowing what he really wanted to do and then actually doing it. And even though he lists his reasons for writing the book in the next to the last chapter (something I kept pondering as I slugged through this laborious text), I still don't think I really know why he wrote this book, which is disappointing to me.I was interested to learn about the birth of shop class in the early 20th century, but the changes in higher education opportunities associated with the G.I. Bill of 1945 and their eventual impact on college bound curriculum of high school students is something the author didn't discuss, which surprised me.I was also curious about the fact that the author didn't trash the engineers who designed things that are difficult or impossible to fix. I kept expecting this to show up every time I started a new chapter, but he never discussed it and I still don't know why. About the only people the author had any respect for were laborers in the building trades and mechanics that fix broken equipment. It would have made more sense to me if the author denigrated the engineers that design buildings and machinery, for designing them to be overly complicated. But he never did, and I still can't figure out why.

  • J
    2019-04-16 16:05

    I grew up in a working class family. Throughout my childhood, Dad always had me working at his side completing various project and side-jobs. He saw the beauty in his children being to work with their hands and believed it was the best hedge against starving to death. He had a strong work ethic and loved to tinker around his shop. He also drew great satisfaction in seeing a job come to completion and admired ingenuity over wealth. There was a certain beauty attached to something that came out of the creative process arising out of some tangible need called for by the task at hand.While I protested all the way and failed to appreciate the process, I do recall the sense of accomplishment that came at the completion of whatever job we were doing. I have come to appreciate the wisdom of my Dad's' unrelenting insistence that I learned how to work with my hands.Matt Crawford makes some excellent arguments for earning a living with your hands. Crawford is an academic but he hasn't forgotten where he came from. He was an electrician who worked his way through university. His education culminated with a PhD after completing his baccalaureate studies in the hard science of Physics.To some, his decision to step down from the pinnacle of working in a high powered think tank in order to pursue his love of tinkering with motorcycle repair, was sheer folly.I disagree.Crawford experienced the sense of accomplishment and gratification associated with working with his hands. In this book, he honors people who earn a living by the sweat of their brow.He makes a cogent argument that intelligence and vocation are not mutually exclusive. It is particularly impressive that he could be be so articulate in honoring the workers whose contributions are so necessary in any society. He doesn't dumb down the writing because he reflects what blue collar workers know; they are not dumb.Unfortunately, social demands and value placed on 'brain powered' jobs tends to marginalize the people who are the back bone of this nation. It is no longer a commonplace notion that high merit should be placed on physical labor. The result for such convention is creation of a world where the predictable outcome is standardized and made ever more precise using measurable data, true craftsmanship and ingenuity are slowly being diminished in the interest of progress.While I can proclaim my deep sense of satisfaction to be linked with creation, and working with my hands is an integral part of my life, I would be remiss if I did not add this caveat; we live in a mean world.You see, banks don't give a damn about how good I feel about working with my hands. They tend to rank my credibility in the world according to whether I can pay my debts. That attendant value associated with work earned by sweat of the proverbial brow is substantially lower than say, work done by day traders, doctors, lawyers and actors.I suppose the most frustrating issue for me is that - like most people who have traveled this road of subsistence versus the path lined with monetary success - is that it is tough to make a sour grapes argument. Plainly put; it sucks to be poor.I want more and I want to enjoy a life where I am disencumbered enough to do what I really love and that is to be a writer. The upside is I have my dreams. The down side of it is that I have to pay my bills.Dividing my time between what is necessary and what I desire is what life is all about. Meanwhile, I bust my butt every day in order to meet whatever demands I deemed important at some earlier time in life - important enough that I committed my name to dotted lines.Undoubtedly, the sense of accomplishment I feel - whenever I create a piece of furniture, complete a remodel, build a beautiful door or gate or some stone structure like a fence or fireplace from scratch or even when I just figure out how to do something, that brings great satisfaction. Finding people who appreciate the same is becoming daily less common. Being a craftsman nowadays is tantamount to living a life of servitude and while I am not convinced that the future looks bright, I am nonetheless committed. I keep building and I keep paying my debts and I keep on dreaming of better days ahead.Yes, working with my hands is a charmed life. Like it or not, I am committed and even if I could change things, I doubt that I would. Romantic inklings aside, here's hoping I don't end up living under a bridge any time soon.Thanks Matt and Thanks Dad.

  • Suzanne
    2019-04-18 17:12

    I really wanted to like this book. I read an excerpt and really enjoyed it. The first half was pretty good, and had some interesting things to say about the nature of work and the value of satisfaction. But by the end of the book, the author just comes across as a giant douchebag who needs to justify to himself why he wasted years getting a PhD in philosophy when what he really wanted to do was fix motorcycles. I think he has a great point that there is a great deal of value in hands-on work (labor, trades, craftwork), and that it's under-appreciated right now, and a lot of people might be happier working in a trade than an office. But, the second half was desperately boring--I skimmed whole chapters and still felt like it was a waste of my time--and basically came down to GRR I'm A Man I Am Such A Manly Man Because I Fix Motorcycles And Get My Hands Dirty and Make Dirty Jokes oh and just ignore my philosophy degree because that's not masculine enough Oh Did I Mention I'm A Man? Yeah, you have a dick, I get it. This already-thin book would have been much improved with some serious editing. I'm also leaving aside most of my more substantive criticism since I don't have the book in front of me to quote. But briefly, he just comes across as naive and ignorant about anyone else's experience besides his own. For all his talk about class and status, he comes across as awfully ignorant about the realities of life for many people in the US. Finally, any discussion of work in today's world that completely ignores women and the role of work in women's lives (except for the obligatory paragraph dismissal of sexual harassment as something that only bothers people because they're status-conscious and not satisfied with their work) just isn't relevant in today's world. In summary: interesting concept, terrible execution, reads more like a BA thesis than a serious exploration of the value of work.

  • Caroline
    2019-03-30 16:14

    This was such a disappointment. I read a New York Times Sunday Magazine article that was a summary of this book a number of years ago when it first came out. I really liked the article and immediately added the book to my "to read" list. I only now got around to it.I hated it. HATED it. I thought Crawford was a sexist blowhard with weak arguments that contained almost no evidentiary support. In order to make said arguments appear slightly more legitimate, he dressed them up in fancy philosophical gobbledegook that just served to slow down the reader.Instead of providing evidence from surveys, academic research, or even experts about the positive aspects of the trades, Crawford spent a lot of time whining about how he personally found white-collar work to be soul-sucking. His arguments were grounded in philosophy (which I suppose makes sense, as he has a PhD in the subject from the University of Chicago), which is a subject that I admit often leaves me cold. I care about how working (or not working) in the trades affects real human beings, not hypothetical ones. I want to know how the trades fit into the economy, not how they fit into a philosophical theory. I also found the book to be quite sexist. At the outset, I was disappointed to find no mention of the gender imbalance and difficulties that women often face entering the trades. When I reached the book's end, I realized that it was laughable to have expected such a treatment of gender in the trades, as Shop Class as Soulcraft has much bigger problems in that arena. Crawford spends quite a bit of book talking about how much better it was back in the day when men were manly and had manly jobs and could partake in manly team building through obscene jokes and hazing. Maybe it was because of this explicit "rah rah" for stereotypical construction site behavior, but his complaints about white-collar work felt implicitly sexist. One example: white-collar work forces manly men to engage in wimpy, sanitized team-building activities. I'm not the biggest fan of forced team building either, but seriously? That's one of your arguments?The sexism issue aside, I think I would have found this book much more compelling if it had been approached differently. Instead of denigrating traditional office work, Crawford could have talked about why the trades were worthwhile. I did genuinely enjoy the chapter where Crawford talks about the personal satisfaction he found solving a particularly challenging mechanical problem in a motorcycle he was trying to fix. However, I think that kind of satisfaction can be found in professional work as well. As someone who enjoys her own office job, I don't think it's reasonable to make assumptions about an entire population of occupations based on a sample size of one person, which is exactly what Crawford does, choosing himself as his sample. I was (and still am) really sympathetic to the idea that the trades are a worthwhile career option and a needed alternative to white-collar work. I just think Crawford did a terrible job of trying to making such an argument. These two types of work can and should be judged independently of each another. Should you feel the same, I'd suggest seeking out another book.

  • Ben
    2019-04-13 22:14

    I highly recommend this to anyone who's ever questioned the utility of their college or graduate degree. While I am proud and happy that I have a B.A., I can't say that I think it is what will get me too far in life, and is pretty definitely not indicative of what I really enjoy in life. I've been working in carpentry/landscaping/maintenance more or less since graduating college in May 2009, and I've never felt more challenged and fulfilled than when I do a good job framing a building or siding a barn. I've never been able to articulate exactly why that is, but this book does a better job than I ever could.Matthew Crawford does a stellar job of explaining the host of good reasons for the societal discrepancy between the usefulness of various jobs and their relative prestige, and makes a case that certain types of skilled manual labor are more intellectually and physically rewarding than jobs in "knowledge work." Don't expect this to be Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance--it's funnier, grittier, and more relevant to everyday life. I can't recommend it more highly.Edit: After more experience in the building trades and a reread, I have to say that this book holds up extremely well. I think that one of the most interesting pieces for me is that Crawford seems to have seen early on the trend toward greater self-sufficiency that is growing among my generation. I don't want to waste any space here repeating what everyone, including the the NY Times, is apparently in on, but it seems to me that while Internet-related work has become a real way to earn a living, especially for social-media savvy "young people", there are an equal number of people my age who want their day job to be something that is real and physical and rewarding. Hopefully this sense of the value of self-sufficiency will not be one of those things that our kids think is old-fashioned and silly about us when we are parents.

  • Zach
    2019-03-27 22:31

    I'd summarize this book as "Manual work is intellectually stimulating." The writing is a bit thick (the author has a PhD and writes like he has to prove it,) but the book has a thorough philosophy on the nature of manual labor and mastering one's craft.Personally, I thought it was interesting that his old job consisted of summarizing articles from academic journals. At one point, I would have described that as kind of a dream job: I would get to learn, write, and distill information from a very high level. But his work was ultimately an assembly line job in which he was judged by the arbitrary criteria of number of articles summarized.In my own experience, corporate office work is routinized to a fault. A procedure must be in place to do anything, certain metrics must be measured to deem a process "acceptable." Some of that is necessary; I sure as hell wouldn't go to a machine shop to buy an artisan pacemaker. Those procedures protect the customer (you know you're getting a pacemaker like all the others) and the worker (you followed instructions and the pacemaker failed, therefore it isn't your personal fault that this patient is dead.)But, that leaves little room for real innovation, which is what the book gets at. Corporate work makes the assumption that every aspect of a job can be documented (measure the tolerance of the valve on a vacuum pump motor and replace when at X inches) whereas the reality is that learned nuance is necessary makes a job inherently valuable (I replaced the vacuum pump because it sounded "off.") I get the feeling that apprenticeship and increased clout of vocational schools would go a long way to teaching "real" skills and reinstating a pride in manual work. Will the intellectual class become disillusioned with office work and yearn for mechanical skills? Who knows.The book raised a lot of questions about the nature of my work and hobbies. What am I doing professionally that's irreplaceable? Is there a real, physical aspect of my work, or is it all mental abstraction? What hobbies do I have that have a real, personal touch? Are those skills useful in a community? Could I pass those on to my kids?

  • Jamie Laing
    2019-04-02 21:20

    This book is fantastic. As a former carpenter, who at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory thought myself a craftsman, I found his writing to open up a deep sense of kinship. This is a man who cares deeply about his work and his society. As someone who now works extensively with technology and computers, I found his mild technophobia a little misplaced but highly likeable. I see no difference between working with physical objects and working with bits and bytes, but that's my personal feeling and no reflection on the book; Crawford's yearning for quality, self direction and improvement rings true. Readers may find deeper appreciation for their own jobs after reading this.Some reviewers complained about the language being overly complicated or "hard", and that just makes me sad for books generally and the American education system specifically. His writing is as beautiful and well crafted as it gets, and those people should stop expecting pabulum, whip out a dictionary, and grow up.

  • Lobstergirl
    2019-03-22 14:19

    I don't think I disagree with much in this book, and I would unreservedly recommend it to everyone. Its themes - that a college-educated workforce is often required to check its brains, independent thinking, judgment, and problem-solving instincts at the cubicle, and that the trades or other artisanal type work actually do involve more of those traits than much white collar labor - are critically important and deserve wider discussion, especially among society's elites: policymakers, academics, and business honchos.My main complaint is that there's so much about motorcycles in here, a subject which interesteth me not. Motorcycle repair, parts, troubleshooting, the community of gearheads - it all gets covered amply in 210 pages of text. Just how seriously Crawford takes his work on cycles is captured here: "My job of making motorcycles run right is subservient to the higher good that is achieved when one of my customers leans hard through a corner on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the point of deliberately dragging his well-armored knee on the inside. This moment of faith, daring, and skill casts a sanctifying light over my work." (Cue medieval choral music, shaft of light from heaven.) I was interested in the financial aspects of his repair business, e.g., how many hours worked on a cycle vs. how many hours he would decide to bill.Despite what might be his protestations to the contrary, Crawford is an academic. (He's a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the Univ. of Virginia. He writes books. How much time does that leave for motorcycle repair, exactly?) He writes like someone who could have been a product of the Committee on Social Thought.* That's not a bad thing, just a heads-up: if you are dismayed at the idea of Heidegger being discussed in the context of the writing of technical manuals, you might not enjoy this book. There's a fair amount of philosophy - that's actually the genre indicated on the back of the book - Aristotle, the Stoics. It's extremely readable, though. It's not dense.One of my favorite themes is the purposeful obfuscation, in the guise of saving the consumer time and effort, of the technology behind many products. There's the Mercedes that has no dipstick. It's an "intuitive" car, meaning there is a computer interface between the car and driver which requires the driver to abandon any hope of using her intuition, if she wanted to. He also uses the example of an infrared faucet. Wave your hands under it, and a stream of water emerges, unless it doesn't, no matter how much waving you do. This same obfuscation irritates me in products as dissimilar as newer dumbed-down versions of Windows, and newer shampoo bottles where you can't even remove the cap, in case you wanted to rinse it out for recycling. He even mentions the Build-a-Bear, which is not building a bear at all; the child selects features and clothes from a computer screen, and the bear is made. Doing is entirely removed from the process. The result, he argues, is that children will be "more well adjusted to emerging patterns of work and consumption," where predetermined rules and outcomes take precedence over independent struggle and action.There's another wonderful (by that I mean horrific) anecdote in Crawford's telling of the first job he got after obtaining his master's degree, writing abstracts of articles in academic journals, as a full-fledged member of the "knowledge economy." Crawford is supposed to be "adding value" by crafting these abstracts, which are then sold by subscription to libraries and other institutions. The problem is that many of the articles are so arcane, there is no possible way someone without that specific knowledge can improve upon them. "It was hard to believe I was going to add anything other than error and confusion to such material." His company trainer, Monica, stands before the class with a whiteboard, diagramming how it's to be done. "Monica seemed a perfectly sensible person, and gave no outward signs of suffering delusions. She didn't insist too much on what she was telling us, and it became clear she was in a position similar to that of a veteran Soviet bureaucrat who must work on two levels at once: reality and official ideology."* I wanted to know more of his backstory: wedged in between J.M. Coetzee and the classicist David Grene, trying to turn his dissertation into a book (on what? he doesn't say) - intriguing, to say the least.

  • Mark Jr.
    2019-03-31 19:29

    I was utterly taken with this book, first to last. The philosophical portions were elegantly written, insightful, and persuasive. The anecdotal interludes about car and motorcycle repair gave just enough breathing space (and entertainment) to make for a good reading pace. What a remarkable author; I will be reading anything by him I can get my hands on. On to “The World Outside Your Head.”A friend commented that he found the philosophical portions difficult, and that his father, with an MA in carpentry and a life as a practitioner, actually found the book off-putting. I don't think this book was written for most tradesmen; they know intuitively that they engage in their practices for their intrinsic goods. They don't need a convoluted philosophical justification for what they discovered long ago was in their blood.But I, the office worker, recognized immediately the truth of Crawford's comment thatthose who work in an office often feel that, despite the proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet, their job lacks objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level, and that as a result there is something arbitrary in the dispensing of credit and blame.I needed to think through whether what I’m doing is valuable or not, and I needed the philosophical meanderings. After my very intelligent friend said he found difficulty in the philosophy stuff, I realized that it was laboring through Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue—an immensely rewarding experience—that made it easy for me to process Crawford. Crawford mentions MacIntyre particularly in the acknowledgments, and MacIntyre’s recovery of the Aristotelian idea of virtue being tided to practices was everywhere in Crawford’s book.I happen to have a job with most of the ideals Crawford praises: I get to do something I love (writing, and writing about the Bible), to produce something concrete (blog posts) for a specific community (Christians interested in Bible study, mostly evangelicals), with fairly objective measures for success (social shares and comments). My job and my personal life bleed into one another because I have a vocation, a calling. I feel very blessed.But reading Crawford revealed to me what I sort of felt guilty for acknowledging before, lest it cloud my ideal vision of myself: I enjoy putzing around the garage, doing yard work, and fixing ice makers and other household stuff. My heart slows down; my stress ebbs; my brain is nonetheless challenged; I have the satisfaction of a job begun and finished; my wife gives me an admiring kiss when I’m done. I do believe I will go at this kind of work with more gusto in years to come; I won’t disdain it as I once did—thinking, “I’m a knowledge worker, a creative; I make money to pay other people to do this menial stuff.” (What a foolish vision, and an impracticable one. The money I don’t make is what forces me to fix my own stuff in the first place.)I was convinced to read this book by Crawford’s presence on the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Otherwise I would have guessed it to be sentimentalized pop psychology. But Myers took it seriously, and it became apparent quickly upon reading that I needed to as well. The stamps of Hunter’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture were clear in the book; I need to read more material coming out of that group.

  • Lark Benobi
    2019-04-09 18:28

    This book appalled me, even though the premise is wonderful: a reminder to enjoy work that changes the world in a tangible way--work that uses tools and is done with your hands instead of your mind. Great! But almost every reference in the book has to do with Men Finding Meaning. About the only reference to a woman at work is a single paragraph where the omnipresent "he" in this book turns to a "she," and "she" is baking with a Betty Crocker cake mix. "She" never gets to do electrical work, or motorcycle repair, or any of the other trades in this book. Just faux-baking. It feels as if the author has never actually thought about the possibility of a woman picking up a socket wrench. A worse sin to me, however, is that Crawford never acknowledges that women (mostly it's women in these roles) are physically changing the world all the time with their hands. I have to wonder why the work many women do on top of their regular jobs, of cooking, cleaning, and caring for family, and of fixing things at home to be more pleasant and/or just to function, doesn't register at all with Crawford as "soulcraft." Traditional women's work doesn't make the grade in this book as meaningful labor whereas it seems to me to be deeply meaningful.Indeed, in a half-assed way the author inadvertently allowed me to reclaim physical labor I do with my hands every day as meaningful labor. I am reminded that I should take more pleasure in this work than I have done in the past. Rather than resent the cooking and cleaning and caring--the things that my education has taught me to disparage and resent--I have come to a realization that since these things must be done, I should do them well. All these thoughts came about in spite of the author rather than because of him, though.So even though the message of the book had none of this in it, I'm glad to have read it, because I have begun to value this labor of mine more than I did before. My guess is Crawford's wife is doing all the housework for him and that's possibly the reason he doesn't know about its value. Let's hope she gets to write a book about her work experiences, too.

  • Heath
    2019-04-10 16:11

    I'd probably have given this book 5 stars if Crawford didn't come across as such a macho prick (the reason I say he's a macho prick is summed up well by this NY Times book review and this one in the New Yorker). It's unfortunate that Crawford allows his tough guy persona to seep onto the page, because the book is very compelling otherwise. It does an excellent job of explaining why office work is so demeaning and unfulfilling (hint: it's often planned to be that way), despite the fact that working in an office job often confers a higher social status than working a "lowly" job in the manual trades (think of the disparity in status between vocational school and the university). He also makes a persuasive case for the importance of understanding how the objects we come into contact with on a day-to-day basis actually work, and how to fix them when they break. While I don't agree with some of the political implications of his ideas, and I could easily point to manual work that is completely depraved and degraded (farmworkers, factory farm work), it's also undeniable that many people feel alienated from their work because so many service sector and office jobs have been dumbed down to the point of complete degradation. While Crawford doesn't offer much of a prescription for this problem, his diagnosis will, at the very least, make you consider your own situation and think about changing it. If you can manage to ignore the macho bullshit that appears at moments, this is a worthwhile read that will challenge you to think about your job and whether or not it serves any useful purpose.

  • Margaret
    2019-04-17 22:28

    I've struggled w/ the star # rating for this book and am going to go with what I really think, and even then I admit I'm maybe bumping this up a bit. This is such a painfully egg-headed and cerebral book that, geez, I feel like a dunce for downgrading it, but there you go. It was just SO painfully egg-heady, cerebral, and plain I'm-so-fricking-holier-than-thou that I feel like the joy was just sucked right out of the book. Geez, Mr. Crawford, I give up! You ARE a better person than just about anyone! I admit that I have no idea how to fix a motorcycle or any machine (although I do knit reasonably well - does that count?) and that I have an actual (GASP!) desk job. I totally get your point that "hand-work" such as industrial arts (shop class) is really, really worthy. (Frankly, I never thought there was any question about this...) In reality, this book is more of an attack on "classism" and "pecking order." Class is a particularly touchy subject in the USA - I remember seeing a PBS series on this topic several years ago and it was, indeed, squirm inducing - but how Mr. Crawford approaches the subject is to pit "those who work with their hands" versus those drones who (GASP!) work in an office setting, with absolutely no letting up. A number of his points ring true (said she, who until recently worked in a large corporate work setting), but... as with any book that makes the same point OVER and OVER and OVER again in language that often seems intentionally dense (author demonstrating how ridiculously brilliant he is), after awhile the reader can't help but rebel. At least this one did...

  • Lindsay
    2019-04-09 17:29

    Was rooting for Crawford to win me over with this book so hard, but he didn't quite do it. It would be so awesome he had both the diagnosis and remedy for my vague "knowledge worker" malaise. He makes some provocative arguments, and his chapter on the contradictions of office jobs was cathartic, but at the end, I was surprised by how flimsy the central argument was for someone who studied philosophy. He tells us to choose a career that deals with things that are "real" without ever fully defining what real is, only hinting at a definition here and there. "Real" is something to do with physical things that give you objective feedback rather than overly intellectual things that you can re-define in your head at will. It's something that situates you in a community, where you have face-to-face interactions and are in service to some greater purpose that you genuinely care about. There should be opportunities to learn and be humbled. And it shouldn't be too soft or concerned with feelings and team work like the feminized office culture we've become accustomed to. A man needs the freedom to make a dirty joke. Despite the fact that he's so enamored of masculinity, it almost sounds like he's writing an unwitting defense of being a housewife. He's asking us to question everything we thought we knew about what counts as valuable work, urging us to reconsider the belief that physical work isn't also intellectual. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if he acknowledged that his glamorized manly man with grease on his hands isn't that different from the harried housewife with spit-up on her shirt.

  • Hope
    2019-03-31 19:13

    A great premise marred by odd moments of sexism and condescension. Crawford has some really powerful insights into the mind-numbing culture of some corporations and makes a strong case for the intrinsic value of labor, as it creates agency, personal discipline, and true creative thinking within an individual. He argues that middle management often condescends to workers, whether it's Henry Ford's assembly line or today's cubicles, creating dysfunctional cultures. But then there are these off-kilter moments where Crawford himself condescends to someone in a similar way. His ire seems oddly directed at women.These moments of unthinking sexism, as one reviewer calls them below, are a little mind-boggling, given how aware Crawford is of the humiliations of corporate "team building" exercises. It's a real shame that he doesn't seem to grasp the import of his main themes on women's jobs today, either. I would imagine that whole segments of retail--pseudo-white-collar and largely female-oriented jobs--would be the object of his disdain, if he knew how difficult it is to sell $100 jeans for $8 an hr., unload boxes, be on your feet for 40 hrs a week, and deal with staff "pep rallies," working conditions, and dress codes that are designed by upper management who either don't know or care that it's impossible to stand for 8 hrs. in "suitably business casual" shoes you can barely afford. I know: I sold women's handbags.

  • Rebecca
    2019-03-25 18:15

    Perhaps a rather middle-class, rose-tinted view of the trades and craftsmanship - it reminded me a little of How To Be Free - “it’s great to do manual work, but to do so properly you have to have a very well read, philosophical understanding of it”. I wasn't so keen on the biography/nitty gritty of how to make motorcycles (the whole point being you have to learn by doing, not by text books, so trying to explain mechanisms wasn't that great!), so the middle 4 chapters could have been cut out of my copy and I've been very happy. The main message was sound however, and it was thought provoking....... SO, I was all set to give this four stars, then something started toreally get my goat; he assumes almost the entire way through the book that those learning manual skills will be boys, and those working in trades will be men - perhaps because of the 'inevitable sexual jokes' in workshops (if he thinks women don't make sexual jokes he obviously doesn't know many), or something? If manual work is so great and can lead to a utopian society etc etc, why can't women participate? And so Crawford may have been writing about how many workshops *are*, but given he is trying to change society's whole outlook on crafts and trades, couldn't that aspect be questioned a bit too? Gah!

  • Stephen Hicks
    2019-03-26 21:24

    I suppose one could say that this book was impactful considering I now want to quit my job and fix airplanes or something. Crawford hits the proverbial nail on the head (and then tells you you're more human for using that hammer and nail). I've always had an affinity for manual labor and the trades but was caught under the spell of the magnificent, successful "knowledge worker" vision. The book takes a very philosophical approach to the nature of work and relies on an anthropology that assumes humans are most fulfilled via interaction with and understanding of the material world.I don't disagree with Crawford about this considering we were made stewards of this world, and we can revel in Creation with humility. I especially appreciate his breaking down of the ridiculous assertion that the trades are not thought-intensive activities. The cabinet-maker, electrician, mechanic, or HVAC guy exercises his mental capacities considerably more than 90% of corporate America. He also dissects the corporate culture of the cubicle which I enjoyed greatly; the superfluous talk of teamwork and productivity initiatives that put forth no tangible standards.My one reservation with this book is quite glaring though. Crawford's personal anecdote was an example of the extreme. He was already equipped with the necessary skills to fix motorcycles and was moderately confident in his ability to do so. For those that are unequipped, possessing no previous experience with mechanics, electronics, carpentry, etc.- how is the jump suppose to be made? How are those of us (which constitute the greater populace today) suppose to live in a more humane manner interacting with the real world outside our heads? For an argument that involves such practical and material wisdom, the answers or suggestions remain abstract if not silent. I have my own thoughts on the matter, and perhaps this book is written to force you to contextualize yourself to find these answers in your own world, your own interests.Overall, I honestly loved this book. It's a much needed work for emerging adults to know, but also, if not more importantly, for parents with young children to know. The trades are not for the poor, stupid, and inept. If you disagree, go fix your own car.

  • Carol
    2019-04-12 17:03

    Ken Myers (Mars Hill Audio Journal) introduced me to Matthew Crawford, calling Shop Class as Soulcraft a hymn to the virtues of what he called manual competence and a lament for the decline of honor accorded to work with one's hands.My husband, a former high school shop teacher, was captivated from the first page — bemoaning the disappearance of shop classes from our common education — kept interrupting my reading of another book to share a paragraph of this book. Thus, he convinced me to read it myself.Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but when he’s not writing he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. (While this is a rare combination, I know several carpenters who are conversant with Kierkegaard and Heidegger. My husband can weld an axle and ask compelling questions.)Crawford’s book is part social history, part philosophy, and part memoir. The altitude of some of the metaphysical musings were beyond my reach but within stretching distance. The history of transition from craftsmanship to assembly line and the degradation of blue collar work was absorbing. His personal ‘education of a gearhead’ was fun and fascinating reading.Crawford laughs at the cubicle culture with teambuilding activities and speech codes. He urges learning a trade even if you go to college. Reading this book inspires me to pick up a shovel and dig in my garden.If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. And in fact this is the case: to really know shoelaces, you have to tie shoes.To see a cool picture of Curt welding:

  • Rachel
    2019-03-30 22:12

    I had been looking forward to reading this for some time. I am an artist, a craftsperson who works with her hands. I form functional objects out of clay using artisan methods and traditional tools. My husband fixes machines, like motorcycles and cars and airplanes (and whatever else comes his way). I obviously share the author's value for physical work, craftsmanship and process.I never finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance, and at times this book, too, gets too much into motorcycles or cars specifically. I say this, knowing that for some readers this is what they are looking for. I, on the other hand, read the book for the discussion of manual labor and manual "arts" done for their own intrinsic and social value. I guess I would prefer a broader discussion that includes some discussion of my field, since I think it relates. (As I write this I realize that this sounds silly, I got what I ordered, I just want someone to make the connection between what I do and what this author does. Selfish, eh?)Anyway, the book was interesting. If you think like him, read it and feel supported. If you are a newcomer to shop class, fixing things, making things, etc, read this and see why taking up the challenge of being a maker, a doer, of physically working through a problem or an idea is good for you.

  • Chris
    2019-03-24 15:28

    Surprisingly not once is Tim Allen's show within a show "Tool Time" from "Home Improvement" mentioned in this homage to the superiority of the tradesman to the knowledge worker. At a time when more schools were closing down shop programs this TV show which worshipped tinkering with tools was a big hit. But then this is a serious book with no time for comic irony. This book is at times quite thought provoking and other times the reader is left rereading a sentence or two and wondering "what did he just say?" This book also reads like a confessional when the author talks about the conflict in billing customers for time or when he worked as a writer of abstracts. I concur with most of what he says about modern management theory. All in all a fascinating and soulful critique of what we do for pay and leisure.

  • Michael
    2019-03-26 15:28

    This is not just a manifesto in favor of manual labor (all sorts, not just artisanry or craftsmanship) but also against the stockade of cubicles that corporate America has encased most of us in. Crawford appears to have something large and angular lodged in his lower intestines--just peek at his multipage rant against automatic faucets in public bathrooms, which he views as a Stalinist plot. But he does ask a provocative question: Why, as America has become more educated, does it appear we have also become stupider? A sense of humor and some field reporting into the American workplace (as opposed to a gleaning of other books he has read and absorbed) would add at least one star.

  • Ron
    2019-03-22 14:11

    This is like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but without sucking in the ways that book does. No mystical metaphysics, no attempt to be a novel. Just critical ideas and observations about work and philosophy. One of the best books I've read. Ever. No exaggeration. Amazing social analysis of work in this country, very philosophical in the best sense, well-written, and a solid challenge to my very personality in some critical ways to the place I find myself in life at this moment. It really is the book for me right now. And I don't even like repairing motorcycles.

  • Chris
    2019-04-06 19:27

    By now, anyone with any exposure to Crawford’s book probably knows at least something of the man’s background. The marketing department at Penguin Books certainly won’t let us forget. Educated in political philosophy at the University of Chicago, he renounced his sinecure as the head of a Washington think-tank (as far as I can tell, it was related to the conservative American Enterprise Institute in some fashion) to retire to Norfolk, Virginia to open his own vintage motorcycle repair shop. While many reviewers have conceived of the book primarily as some sort of self-help or career advice manual, Shop Class as Soulcraft is an engaging, fairly serious work of ethical and moral inquiry and sociopolitical criticism. Crawford’s position is deeply conservative, but unlike many contemporary conservatives he has a deep skepticism about the goodness of modern corporate capitalism. He seeks to conserve what he sees as the best aspects of work generally and the manual trades in particular from the relentless onslaught of corporate power and the culture of consumption, which he sees as the most dangerous current threats to individual liberty rather than the state. I make no claim to be able to offer knowledgeable criticism of his discussion of the mechanic’s work process or his views on cognitive psychology, so allow me to focus on the book’s political and cultural arguments. For Crawford, the central problem of modernity is a struggle for individual agency, that is, the capacity of human beings to have some sort of control over the things that have the biggest impact on their lives. Work definitely falls into this category, as we spend most of our waking hours engaged in it, preparing for it, and recovering from it. But the nature of the modern world constantly undermines this goal. “Both as workers and as consumers, we feel we move in channels that have been projected from afar by vast impersonal forces,” Crawford observes. “We worry that we are becoming stupider, and begin to wonder if getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on getting a handle on it in some literal and active sense.”Because many of us in advanced capitalist countries are engaged in occupations that don’t involve the production of any tangible, material goods, we often don’t know exactly what is expected from us in our work or what its larger purpose is, and this situation can create serious psychological and social trauma. As Crawford observes of young people entering the working world, “the college student interviews for a job as a knowledge worker, and finds that the corporate recruiter never asks him about his grades and doesn’t care what he majored in. He senses that what is demanded of him is not knowledge but rather that he project a certain kind of personality, an affable complaisance. Is all his hard work in school somehow just for show – his ticket to a Potemkin meritocracy? There seems to be a mismatch between form and content, and a growing sense that the official story we’ve been telling ourselves about work is somehow false.”For decades, we have been told by supposed experts that to avoid a life of mindless toil and the possibility of deskilling and offshoring, pursuit of a college education and a white-collar, “knowledge work” is necessary. But scientific innovation has made any job that can possibly be done remotely through advanced communications technology subject to export and to relentless deskilling and degradation, not just blue-collar manufacturing work. Somewhat surprisingly for a conservative, Crawford draws on the work of Marxist economic historian Harry Braverman to analyze the way capitalist industrialization has effected the separation of thinking from doing wherever possible and to provide caution to those who don’t see the value of work that can’t be outsourced or deskilled. “If you need a deck built, or your car fixed, the Chinese are of no help, Crawford notes impishly, “because they are in China.”Paradoxically, by promoting a vision of liberation from responsibility through technologically mediated production on one hand and rampant, compensatory consumerism on the other, contemporary society actually makes us less free by subordinating us to the power of the market. As Crawford argues, “the activity of giving form to things seems increasingly the business of a collectivized mind, and from the standpoint of any particular individual, it feels like this forming has already taken place, somewhere else… But because the field of options generated by market forces maps a collective consciousness, the consumer’s vaunted freedom within it might be understood as a tyranny of the majority that he has internalized.” If anything, the critique of commodity fetishism advanced by Marx one hundred and fifty years ago and echoed here by Crawford has only become more relevant and terrifying. All this has a literally demoralizing effect on working people, and educates us into a certain way of looking at the world and our jobs. “Degraded work entails not just dumbing down but also a certain unintended moral reeducation…We have all had the experience of dealing with a service provider who seems to have been reduced to a script-reading automaton. We have also heard the complaints of employers about not being able to find conscientious workers. Are these two facts perhaps related? There seems to be a vicious circle in which degraded work plays a pedagogical role, forming workers into material that is ill-suited for anything but the overdetermined world of careless labor.” Needless to say, this moral and intellectual degradation makes many of us ill-suited to participate fully and effectively as citizens in a supposedly democratic society that is less responsive to the needs of its people as it becomes increasingly dominated by corporate power. This is all very good critique, and it’s quite refreshing to know that it appears in a bestselling book and in a very popular New York Times Sunday Magazine article. Unfortunately, Crawford begins to stumble when he moves from critique to prescription, which at the risk of some oversimplification boils down to “big is bad, small is beautiful.” He calls for a widespread return to localized, face-to-face economic exchanges through more small entrepreneurship, a vision based in part on an overly romanticized concept of the good old days that’s probably not possible for many people to pursue. Crawford correctly identifies the corporation as the biggest threat to individual liberty in the modern world, but his advocacy of small entrepreneurship in the trades and other fields leaves something to be desired. Echoing Tocqueville’s championing of the small businessman as the bedrock of a democratic society, Crawford insists that this vision “remains valid, especially if the enterprise provides a good or service with objective standards, as these may serve as the basis for social relations within the enterprise that are nonmanipulative in character.” He maintains that the necessity to explain his labor bill to his customers prevents him from manipulating and exploiting them, and that may indeed be true in his case. But how many of us can attest to being ripped off by an unscrupulous mechanic who hasn’t received a rigorous education in moral and ethical philosophy? I get fleeced by my corner bodega owner on a regular basis, and it’s not somehow nobler because it happens face-to-face rather than being mediated through some global mega-corporation. Small businesses also tend to pay less in wages and offer skimpier benefits than big companies and are usually rabidly hostile to unions or any form of worker self-organization. Small is not always beautiful. It can be downright ugly. Crawford’s endorsement of the virtues of the local seems based at least in part on a rather rosy view of the past, as his rather risible defense of the supposedly more virtuous bankers of the 19th and early 20th centuries shows. He uncritically quotes the testimony of Thomas W. Lamont, an executive at J.P. Morgan during the 1920s, who waxes eloquently about the ostensible honesty and public spiritedness of his profession. In fact, Lamont was an outspoken supporter of Italian fascism and secured millions of dollars in loans for Mussolini. There’s a reason why both small town and Wall Street bankers were objects of hatred in the political imagination of Populists, Socialists, and millions of other Americans around the turn of the 20th century. It’s because they were just as greedy and exploitative as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley is now. So much for the good old days. Crawford also falls into the trap of placing too much faith in ethical consumerism as a way of resolving the crisis of work. He argues that “the decision [of whether to support corporate chains or local independent businesses:] is inherently political, because the question who benefits is at stake: the internationalist order of absentee capital, or an individual possessed of personal knowledge…If the regard that many people now have for the wider ramifications of their food choices could be brought to our relationships to our own automobiles, it would help sustain the pockets of mindful labor.” Of course one should patronize a good local business instead of a corporate chain whenever possible, but ethical consumerism is easily cooptable by big capital. Ethical food consumerism in particular is not a very good example for him to choose, as the organic food craze has been captured to a significant extent by the big agriculture companies. Besides, it’s very hard for small businesses and other alternative enterprises to survive in a world of corporate gigantism without becoming more and more capitalist in orientation. Just look at the history of many cooperative businesses and the Israeli kibbutzim, for example. Crawford does indeed recognize that the problems that he identifies ultimately find their origins in a political economy that must be reorganized in a more humane fashion. As he notes, “we in the West have arranged our institutions to prevent the concentration of political power…But we have failed utterly to prevent the concentration of economic power, or take account of how such concentration damages the conditions under which full human flourishing becomes possible (it is never guaranteed).” No argument here, but while he recognizes that the problem is fundamentally political, he seems to reject politics as a means of solving it. “A heady vision of the progressive hereafter in which economic antagonism has been overcome may come in to stand for, and distract from, the smaller but harder work of living well in this life. The alternative to revolution, which I want to call Stoic, is resolutely this-worldly. It insists on the permanent, local viability of what is best in human beings. In practice, this means seeking out the cracks where individual agency and the love of knowledge can be realized today, in one’s own life.” That sounds great, but outside of the cramped and fevered quarters of the sectarian far left, does anyone seriously think that a world in which “economic antagonism has been overcome” is possible to attain? Not anymore, as far as I can tell. There’s nothing wrong with people seeking out alternative lifestyles wherever possible, but there’s no need to draw a strict distinction between such pursuits and the need for political action. And besides, lifestyle-ism can’t do much on its own to alter the larger political economy that generates the social and psychological ills that Crawford rightfully deplores.It’s certainly true that the political realities of the global economy make it harder for national governments and other entities to regulate economic activity in the interests of working people, and that the idea of being one’s own boss at work and in life is very attractive. But the world in which the small property holder of Jeffersonian republican mythology could plausibly be identified as a model to be widely emulated is dead and gone. Calling for a return to the local and to small-scale entrepreneurship is no solution, at least for most people. As a venture capitalist interviewed by de Botton in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work notes, out of 2,000 business plans, only about two ever wind up becoming even modestly successful businesses. You can’t responsibly rail against current work arrangements and then encourage people to pursue a course that will likely end in failure. As for entering the trades, this entails years of training, many people return to the conventional workplace once they find out how hard the work is, and besides, who wants to be doing hard, dirty manual labor in their forties, fifties, or sixties? I know I don’t. I’ve seen my father do this kind of work for most of his life, and there’s really not much that’s romantic about it. The last thing he wanted to see me become is a manual laborer of some sort because it can be a very hard life. It seems to me that many of those caught up in the current glorification of manual labor come from middle and upper-middle class backgrounds where most people don’t really know what working with your hands is really like. While also a rather daunting prospect, people should be encouraged to organize for better conditions in their current jobs and in the public sphere for a more democratic and humane economy. To me, it’s a more plausible and attractive vision than one that rather literally tells people to mind their own business.

  • Mac
    2019-04-03 17:32

    It just so happened that I was reading this book as Mike Rowe, who is somehow now the flag-carrier for manual labor, testified before congress regarding “vocational education” programs in high schools. In my high school, there were students and teachers (mostly the latter) who referred to this part of the building, which had its own wing, as “the prole hallway,” and as the kind of guy who as an adult spends a lot of time on a web site called “Goodreads,” I wasn’t exactly encouraged to go over there. I took a typing and early MS-Office class as my vocational education requirement, and I use those skills even now.I wish, however, that people like Rowe and Matthew B. Crawford had a little more say in the educational system, but as Crawford points out early in this book, that kind of education costs a lot of money, and as technology has advanced, this kind of learning isn’t the kind people want to emphasize in young people – every politician who talks about education wants students to learn “Math and Science” at every turn, and to be ever-ready to use those computer skills in the suburban office that he/she will one day work in.Crawford’s diagnosis of this scenario is rather spot on, and his rebuttal – that not only is “blue-collar” work potentially more rewarding financially than office drudgery, but also spiritually – is something I’ve been learning for myself, and a lesson I only wish I could have learned 20 years ago. It was particularly depressing to read this as I participated in the drudgery of office work that Crawford describes, but it was still an enjoyable read.This book is not perfect, certainly. For one, it ignores the idea that the moment one turns a passion into a way to make a living, it ceases to be a passion. I know of many hobbyist mechanics who, once they go into business fixing cars or motorcycles, begin to hate the sight of what they once truly enjoyed. Crawford himself, by trade an electrician, find the philosophical pleasures he writes about in rebuilding vintage motorcycles, not wiring houses. He touches on this in the book, very slightly, with examples of rich office-working types who go on extreme vacations to “recharge,” but doesn’t mention any need for the craftsman to ever recharge in the same way. While the rebuilding of an engine or the building of a new piece of furniture may be rewarding in a very primal and fundamental way, for the person who makes her living by it, it’s still a job, and a hard one at that. You cut yourself, you hurt yourself, you stand in uncomfortable poses for hours at a time and your muscles tense up – it’s not always fun. Rewarding work can become drudgery, too, and Crawford idealizes the skilled trades a little too much as he defends them. There is also a slightly reactionary tone to some of the conclusions that Crawford reaches as he writes, one that isn’t necessarily following from his arguments. The danger in writing a book like this comes from a few directions, but one of them is certainly to write a trite, flag-waving, hippie-bashing, woman-hating diatribe about the good ol’ days when men were men and everyone knew their place – for the most part, Crawford avoids this, but that kind of blue-collar jingoism can creep up into moments when he begins to approach generalizations about large swaths of people (I should say I know nothing of Crawford’s biography other than what he tells in the book, and have no idea of his beliefs on any political, social, or economic matters). The book is best at describing a one-on-one interaction of human and non-human, in which the human changes the non-human into something of the human’s design. Addressing the manual and intellectual energy at work in that interaction seems to me to be enough; the sociology of the construction site and value of ownership that are briefly touched upon aren’t necessarily relevant, nor are they well enough explored to support their being here.The biggest problem with this book, however, is that on some level I already knew everything in it. Crawford’s background in philosophy makes the book’s arguments very sound, and the ideas at work here are very complex, but it’s difficult to capture in words the kind of feelings he’s talking about. A significant portion of this book is trying to explain, in philosophical terms, the pleasure of being able to say “I made that,” and it may be that this is a pleasure that needs to be felt rather than described.So I’m not sure that Crawford is going to change anyone’s mind, necessarily. For better or worse, students will be pressured to go to college, and Mercedes will continue to build cars where the owner cannot check the oil. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat may see themselves driven further and further apart, with the added problem that as once-durable goods become more and more disposable, the tradesmen Crawford writes about aren’t relied upon to fix anything. It would be nice if schools would put back the prole hallways and start taking their vocational education programs more seriously, if only to create more well-rounded, capable individuals, but as budgets are cut and curricula are standardized, that seems less and less likely.Unfortunately, Crawford may simply be preaching to the converted. Hopefully there is a person out there who picks up this book and decides to learn a little more about her car’s engine, or signs up for a woodworking class, but it’s more likely that anyone who reads this will already be somewhat industrially inclined. In that case it will be more of a reinforcement of previously unarticulated feelings, but it will also be a handy retort to anyone who looks at a grease-covered workbench full of carburetor parts and asks “why would anyone want to deal with that?” “Read this,” the bench-owner can say.

  • Jonathan Sargent
    2019-04-04 14:15

    Wowza.So many good quotes, stories, thoughts, concepts and ideas packed into one tiny package. A must-read for anyone who has worked "physical" labor. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book, in no particular order.HUMANE ECONOMY"A humane economy would be one in which the possibility of achieving such satisfaction is not foreclosed ahead of time for most people. It would require a sense of scale. We in the West have arranged our institutions to prevent the concentration of political power, with such devices as the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial functions. But we have failed utterly to prevent the concentration of economic power, or take account of how such concentration damages the conditions under which full human flourishing becomes possible (it is never guaranteed). The consolation we seek in shopping serves only to narcotize us against a recognition of these facts, even while contributing to the Giant Pool of Money. Too often, the defenders of free markets forget that what we really want is free men. Having a few around requires an economy in which the virtue of independence is cultivated, and a diversity of human types can find work to which they are suited. It is time to dispel the long-standing confusion of private property with corporate property. Conservatives are right to extol the former as a pillar of liberty, but when they put such arguments in the service of the latter, they become apologists for the ever-greater concentration of capital. The result is that opportunities for self-employment and self-reliance are preempted by distant forces."EVERYONE AN ENSTEIN"After all, the “stated mission” of Best Buy’s CEO is to provide a work environment designed to “unleash the power of all of our people as they have fun while being the best.” It seems the unleashed power of all those mavericks in the Best Buy creative sector is fully compatible with near-minimum wage. Bohemians live by a different set of rules; they aren’t money-grubbing proles. “They have fun while being the best,” these aristocrats of the spirit. Florida presents the image of an immigrant salesperson acting on a thought. Are we to believe these teenagers and immigrants working at Best Buy have reclaimed the unity of thought and action of the preindustrial craftsman, or of the gentleman inventor? Florida seems to suggest there has been a wholesale overthrow of the centralization of thinking that is the hallmark of industrial capitalism. Robert Jackall offers a more plausible account of the role these teenaged and immigrant Einsteins are playing at Best Buy. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews with corporate managers, he concludes that one of the principles of contemporary management is to “push details down and pull credit up.” That is, avoid making decisions, because they could damage your career, but then spin cover stories after the fact that interpret positive outcomes to your credit. To this end, upper management deals only with abstractions, not operational details. If things go well: “Finding cross-marketing synergies in the telecommunications and consumer electronics divisions has improved our strategic outlook heading into the fourth quarter.” If things go badly: “Change the Vonage display? That was the kid’s idea. What’s his name, Bapu or something. Jeezus, these immigrants.” Where Jackall sees managerial ass covering, Florida sees a magical bubbling up of people power: 'harnessing the creative talents of each and every human being.'"THE SEPARATION OF THINKING FROM DOING"The dichotomy of mental versus manual didn’t arise spontaneously. Rather, the twentieth century saw concerted efforts to separate thinking from doing. Those efforts achieved a good deal of success in ordering our economic life, and it is this success that perhaps explains the plausibility the distinction now enjoys. Yet to call this “success” is deeply perverse, for wherever the separation of thinking from doing has been achieved, it has been responsible for the degradation of work. If we can understand the process by which so many jobs get fragmented, we will be better able to recognize those areas of work that have resisted the process, and identify jobs in which the human capacities may be more fully engaged. In the 1950s, sociologists started pointing out a basic resemblance between Soviet and Western societies: in both there seemed to be an increasing number of jobs that were radically simplified. Both societies were industrial, and had in common a growing separation of planning from execution. This was sometimes attributed to automation, but more penetrating observers noted that it proceeded from the imperatives of rational administration—a sort of social technology, rooted in the division of labor. The “machine” in question was the social body, made up of increasingly standardized parts. In the Soviet bloc, this machine was subject to central control by the state; in the West, by corporations."I could go on, but if any of those quotes peaked your interest, pick up a copy immediately.