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

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  3,516 ratings  ·  730 reviews
A philosopher / mechanic destroys the pretensions of the high- prestige workplace and makes an irresistible case for working with one's hands

Shop Class as Soulcraft brings alive an experience that was once quite common, but now seems to be receding from society-the experience of making and fixing things with our hands. Those of us who sit in an office often feel a lack of...more
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published May 28th 2009 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2009)
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Ken-ichi
Nov 22, 2010 Ken-ichi rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who work
Shelves: philosophy, learning, work
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 intellect...more
Mary
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 hav...more
Chris Griger
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 ende...more
Brian
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 (so...more
J
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...more
Emily
Nov 08, 2009 Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
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 boo...more
Ben
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...more
Margaret
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 an...more
Zach
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...more
Suzanne
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 (la...more
Lobstergirl
Aug 10, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
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,...more
Jamie Laing
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 feelin...more
Rachel
May 05, 2012 Rachel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
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 motorcycle...more
Rob
Nov 05, 2009 Rob rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: pos
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 wholehear...more
Heath
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 worki...more
Chris
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 h...more
Michael
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...more
Ron
Jun 22, 2009 Ron rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Susan
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 rea...more
Mac
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 th...more
Lindsay
This book addresses one of the topics I'm very interested in-- the displacement of physical, tangible work with automated, distanced work-- and I wasn't let down by Crawford's exploration in this field. It's not really necessary to give away the themes he's talking about since that one theme is pretty straightforward. Instead, I thought I'd record the ways that the novel resonated with me through pretty large correlations to my life and through occurrences that popped up while reading and seemed...more
Clayton
Early in this book, author Matthew Crawford writes, "In this book I would like to speak up for an ideal that is timeless but finds little accommodation today: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world." Crawford does an excellent job in support of this thesis.

This philosopher turned motorcycle mechanic wields a powerful pen in defense of 'manual competence' not just for the sake of it but because it stands for something intangible. He argues that the fabric o...more
Bob Nichols
Crawford is old school in a good way. He's critical of contemporary education and its support of the modern-day knowledge economy. The author, a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago, began his career in the "knowledge arts" but quickly realized that this line of work was inherently unfulfilling. This is how he ended up as the owner and operator of a motor cycle repair shop. While he uses his hands, Crawford makes the case that the repair of motorcycles is a full intellect...more
Hope
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-kil...more
Erin
I immediately became very absorbed in this book because it legitimized my aversion to the more typical, prestigious careers that so many graduates with B.A.s or M.A.s (or simply anybody who comes from educated, "high-achieving" families) feel pressure to pursue. Crawford discusses how higher degrees, internships, and research-based knowledge have become markers of self-esteem in modern society. As higher education and knowledge-based careers have become more popular, less people are entering man...more
Chris
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. Whil...more
Ed
A really rich and interesting book that transforms how we see work. He argues that skilled mechanical work involves high levels of cognitive processing and has the virtue that you either fix something or you don't. You cannot work on his example: vintage motor cycles without making mistakes with consequences.So he argues it is a great counter to the sort of intellectual arrogance that elite schools breed and then cause us endless pain by having their output inflict their arrogance on us as polit...more
Greta
Based on the title of this book I thought I'd find a kindred spirit extolling the virtues of "doing" as opposed to "thinking and talking", working with ones' hands instead of at a desk. Instead I got a lot of shop talk, descriptions of fixing motorcycles and philosophizing about certain choices the author made with regard to his own trajectory through life. I was bored by his inability to stay on topic. I didn't think this was supposed to be an autobiography. The author's PhD. gave him the abili...more
Bruce
My bookstore browsing process is to find a book that looks interesting, pick it up, open to a random page and start reading. "Shop Class as Soulcraft" is one of those rare instances where a fascinating passage led me to buy the book when almost any other passage would have sent me running for the exit.

In the passage I read, the author, Michael Crawford, recounts an anecdote from Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" where a disengaged and careless young motorcycle mechanic...more
Daniel Lemire
What is meaningful work? It may not bet the prestigious white collar job you sought. In fact, the well paid office might be closer to a factory job than it appears. This book offer a refreshing view of the workplace.
Andy
It’s unlikely you noticed this trend, but during the 1990s at high schools and middle schools across the country, shop classes were cancelled and replaced with computer literacy courses. Author Matthew Crawford bemoans the fact that guidance counselors actively discourage students from pursuing careers in the skilled trades. He says that as a result of our drive towards white collar office work, Americans have grown ignorant of the inner-workings of our stuff; we’ve become dependent on throw-awa...more
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Matthew B. Crawford is currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He also runs a (very) small business in Richmond, Virginia.
More about Matthew B. Crawford...
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“The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world. But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away. His well-founded pride is far from the gratuitous “self-esteem” that educators would impart to students, as though by magic.” 13 likes
“I used to try to hypnotize myself into a Zen-like state of resignation at the outset. It doesn't work, not for this grasshopper. I have my own process, as they say. I call it the motherfucker process.” 5 likes
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