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Cræft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  613 ratings  ·  146 reviews
Faced with an endless supply of mass-manufactured products, we find ourselves nostalgic for goods bearing the mark of authenticity—hand-made tools, local brews, and other objects produced by human hands. Archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands reaches as far back as the Neolithic period to recover our lost sense of craft, combining deep history with detail ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 15th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company (first published October 31st 2017)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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Aria
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ----

Although I didn't finish it (I did have a look through the last half that I just didn't complete), I don't feel there is much to complain about here. The author discusses the history of craft, the changing meanings of the word and ideas of what qualifies as craft, and of course his history and experiences actually trying to do things the way they were done before our recent modern era.

My only issue came early on, before the r

...more
Koen Crolla
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: making
Starts very questionably and doesn't get better from there. In the introduction, Langlands makes much of the Old English word cræft and how its supposed broader meaning exemplifies an entire world-view now lost—in fact, cræft maps to modern English craft almost perfectly, and the only meaning it had that was later lost is the one it shares with its cognates in other Germanic languages (strength/force), which is not relevant to Langlands' interpretation of the word.
This willingness to start from
...more
Rosemary
3.5 stars. I was on the fence about rounding up or down.

First of all, I much enjoyed this book. Just ask my poor husband, who had to suffer through many descriptions and passages from it! I loved learning about the different crafts presented in it, and am still mulling over various parts of it a week after finishing. I thoroughly agree that we lose something vital when our lives are divorced from all but recreational making, and that making things from and with the world around us is part of wha
...more
Jordan J. Andlovec
There were things I loved about this book, and things that bored me to death about it. The overall theme, a philosophy of objects in their reality and the understanding that brings out their true we essence was eye-opening, and some of the chapters on individual crafts were fascinating. But there were some chapters (like the one on ditch digging) that were so mind-numbingly boring I nearly fell asleep.

I hope in the second edition they commission the illustrator to add some visuals to the descri
...more
Vintage274
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Shelves: academic
A well-written academic text is a real joy. Langlands, an archaeologist, explores a variety of almost lost or lost ancient crafts in this absorbing text from roof thatching to weaving to wood coppicing, he shares details of both how's and why's, bringing background information and historical pinning as well as his own experiences in reproducing these crafts. I admit to being a history nerd and enjoyed this book in huge gulps over two days. highly recommend.

I was provided a galley copy of this te
...more
Michele
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, the-arts
Honest, I am not sure what this book is about. It supposed to be about crafts, as in the various traditional skills that were once vital to our survival. It goes though farming, tanning leather and other crafts. To me it came across as pretentious and elitist. Example: early in the book he was ranting against electric pepper mills as a step down in craft, but I thought they would be wonderful for people with arthritis, tremors, etc. This pretentious feeling was though out the book. Maybe its bec ...more
Lawrence
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book. And if you are interested in what I call "the things that stay the same," I think you will love it, too.

Mr. Langlands introduces the reader to all the crafts that make up the foundations of our culture and civilization. These include skills like whipping (tying things together, like an axe blade to a handle), wattle making, basketry, thatching, weaving, pottery, breaking ground by hand, and so on. He writes not only about how the craft is done, but also about the history of the
...more
Vannessa Anderson
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: advocacy
Craft was a convincing read on why we should never give up making things with our hands. Author Langlands demonstrated how our dependence on machines interferes with our humanity. Craft was a worthy read. Author Langlands takes us down memory lane when we made things by hand and how it encouraged community.
Charles J
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Man’s search for meaning is, in these days of alienation and anomie, always a topic that can generate interest. Meaning at its most concrete is tied to the things of Earth, to the nature of man and the world of nature. Thus, if man becomes wholly dissociated from Earth, bad things result. This, in a nutshell, is the message of not a few modern prophets, and among them is Alexander Langlands, offering a specifically British variation on the theme.

The author is an archaeologist and historian of me
...more
Marks54
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting book by an experimental archeologist who worked with the BBC to show how various farms actually operated (with historical accuracy) - among many other projects the author appears to have participated in. His interest is in showing an astonishing range of traditional crafts, mostly associated around small British farming establishments. What is the deal with thatched roofs? How do hedges work? What difference does it make how one builds a wall to separate your property from ...more
Ken-ichi
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: learning
Alas, not what I wanted, which, I think, was something more along the lines of an exploration of what tacit knowledge provides beyond just the practice, something that interests Langlands... just not as much as the practice itself. The author presents himself as a nerd, i.e. a slightly-overenthusiastic but trustworthy guide, but the pejorative sense seems more apt, as in someone whose enthusiasm is admirable but whose inability to predict his audience's lack thereof is not. Do I need to understa ...more
Anna Nesterovich
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dropped
As a person who actually knows how to do things with my hands (and was required to know that to survive at some point), I couldn't get through this ecstatic, idealistic thicket. I really wanted to enjoy it, but barely made it to page 50.
Tiana
Mar 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Cræft by Alexander Langlands, has personally sparked a miniature renaissance of craft in my life. By chapter three I was buying heavy cream at the supermarket to make my own butter at home (delicious! easy!), and before I finished the book I'd learned how to drop spin wool into yarn. It's been a hell of a ride.

Langlands is a self proclaimed idealist, and believes wholeheartedly that we in this modern world lack craft and cræft. We need to return to valuing the knowledge of how to make things, a
...more
Caroline Alexander
While I enjoyed the general concept of lost knowledge, the importance of knowing how to do things by hand/sustainably, and the symbiotic relationships that humans can have with their environments, the author gets deep into the weeds on fairly obscure topics that are hard to follow. I also don't buy that the Old English "craeft" does not translate well into modern English. This book would also deeply benefit from pictures, as I kept having to google what things looked like or watch videos of peop ...more
Lyn Relph
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is an anthropologist’s book. Some of its data come from archaeological digs at sites of “estate” operations in Britain’s past, but Langlands has spent his life in pursuit of traditional craft practices, craft knowledge accumulation and lifeways on traditional estates going back to Roman days. He has read the available literature, interviewed remnant practitioners of numerous traditional crafts essential to an agricultural way of life, — he has even taken lessons from some of these masters —
...more
Jo Anne
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a big fan of books that detail how cultures are shaped - Mark Kurlansky ‘s work for example - Langlands’ book is a great addition to the genre. More than once I had a gasp- and-shut-the-book moment. Highly recommended.
Adam
A disjointed survey of traditional problem solving, manufacturing in rural England; severe lack of illustrations (the one contained can only be described as perversely uninformative); too great an assumption that the reader has the same baseline knowledge as the author; uninteresting tangents into the author's personal life, and his list of achievements and contributions to his field which don't appear to go beyond being on the BBC.

The volume opens with exploring the origin and meaning of cræft,
...more
Paul
Sep 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2018
Almost everything that you buy these days has come out of a factory, probably based somewhere in the Far East and whilst the quality is generally serviceable, it often isn't. Quality has always come at a price, and more people are rediscovering the advantages of using a well-made basket, or correctly balanced tool. Something that has fascinated Alexander Langlands for years is looking at the way that we used to make and do things. As an experienced experimental archaeologist who has appeared on ...more
Frederique Courard-Hauri
Great read! We have a tendency to underappreciate the skills of our forbears and paint the modern internet age in rosy colors, but that is a dangerous thing to do, particularly now as we see the effects of plastics and fossil fuel use on the planet. In each chapter of this book I found myself excited about the skills Langlands was describing. Now I want a weekend cottage where I can whittle, weave baskets, make and use old-fashioned bee skeps -- and pretty much everything else he talks about, to ...more
Dunyazade
Interesting subjects, however the author is arrogant and begins his book with a diatribe against battery-powered pepper mills. It's amazing that he can do so much research on history, but cannot realize that battery-powered pepper mills were invented for the mobility impaired and not because humanity has become more lazy. He also writes as if men were the only creatures on these farms of the past, which is a conceit I would expect in a book pre-dating the 60s and 70s, and not one published in 20 ...more
Oracleanne
Feb 22, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I'll be honest, I didn't get far in this one. I think it's pretentious and elitist to say that creating a topiary with mechanized tools makes it have less artistic merit than someone who only uses hand tools, or that someone who uses a sewing machine uses less skill than someone who hand quilts. I had high hopes, but I DNF'd really hard.
Sonja
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Langlands style is as warm and appealing as it is informative. While I appreciated his minute descriptions of various endangered pre-industrial methodologies, what I loved more were his observations about the value of skill and resourcefulness in both practical and spiritual terms. The sections within the chapter are punctuated with an illustration of a hand, an enduring symbol of humanity and our defining practical intelligence.

I often longed for diagrams or pict
...more
Rosser
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't think anyone who isn't a social history nerd can fully enjoy and appreciate this book. And it helps to be a bit of an Anglophile. If you enjoy the BBC and PBS programs that delve deeply into the everyday of British Isles/Norse history, then you'll love it. The author is an archeologist who contributes as a participant to creating some of those programs, and his enthusiasm and exuberance for those roles spills over into the book. If you are reading it and feel that it's becoming too pedan ...more
Elisa Strickler
3.5 stars. I would have loved for this book to have contained illustrations, but I did enjoy the author’s writing style and use of language to describe things about which I may otherwise have never known.
Lizzy
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Interesting and well written nerd book for those who love history and crafting. Not exactly bed time reading, but his anecdotes and musings are quite engaging.
Anthe
I'm not sure what I think about this book. Some chapters I liked, others were too hard to follow. I think Langlands writes well, and although there was some blatant ableism in the introduction (as remarked upon by many other reviewers), I think he writes fluently. However, I just don't know enough about most of these craft forms to understand what he's saying a lot of the time. More illustrations would maybe have made comprehension easier.
Freya
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars, review to come :)
Valerie
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love slowing the world down. Walking instead of driving. Cooking instead of heating. Needlearts of all kinds.

The chapters on bee keeping and drywall and hedging made me wish I had the need to use those skills, but sheep would not enjoy my redwoods. I will probably return to this book with specific questions.

Favorite quote: True basket weaving was, and remains, the original 3D printing.

So true.
B. Jean
"WHILE I CAN talk a good craft, I’m no craftsman. I’ve turned my hand to all sorts of things over the years, and at times of brimming self-confidence I like to consider myself a Renaissance man, but when I get down off my high horse the expression ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is definitely more fitting."

86% in to the book, he finally admits it. Thus lies my main issues with this book. This was about the author's experiences in working in craft as a (TV) archaeologist vs the actual persp
...more
Debbie
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Cræft" is a mix of the author's experiences and thoughts about various traditional skills that were once vital to our survival. The author is an experimental archaeologist who was involved in BBC shows like Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, and Warime Farm. He told stories about his experiences while trying a craft or using the products of traditional crafts. He also contemplated the costs of modern ways of doing things and some advantages of using traditional methods. For some crafts, he describ ...more
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Alex Langlands is a British archaeologist and historian, also known for his work as a presenter of the educational documentary series on British television.

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