James's Reviews > Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford
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There's a lot to like in this book. I think it's weaker because at times the author lets his personal tastes and biases creep in and expresses them as if they were facts or recognized as self-evident in terms of values; often he seems right, but sometimes just cranky, as in his scathing condemnation of motion-activated restroom fixtures, which he seems to think are designed to rob us of dignity (I suspect the designers were thinking about sanitation instead.)

I also have a beef with his assumption that jobs working with things that can't be weighed or tested mechanically are jobs working with things that aren't real. Two major exceptions come to mind, from my own first and second careers.

First, as a career Marine, I know leadership, and it matters even though you don't do it or evaluate it with physical tools. I've served under superb and terrible commanders, and the differences win fights and save lives. Secondly, after sixteen years as a psychotherapist, I know the difference between what produces real benefits in people's lives in my field and what doesn't, and sometimes the difference is measured in whether clients succeed or fail in the things that mean most to them, or even whether or not they mutilate or kill themselves. In both cases, the things worked with are every bit as real as a machine.

I do agree with the gist of Crawford's message, and I respect and value the kinds of skills and character assets he's writing about very highly - I'm actually going back to school to become a machinist and welder, because those are skills I've always admired and wanted to learn. But working with one's hands isn't the only kind of soulcraft.

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