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

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  362 ratings  ·  106 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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3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  362 ratings  ·  106 reviews

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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

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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 —
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars, review to come :)
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
Jan 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
Skimmed the second half because I couldn't take it anymore. This is a book about a super priviledged, bored Englishman getting in touch with BEING ALIVE by dabbling in handicrafts and talking shit about anything that uses power. He knows doing things by hand is better, more time efficient in the long run, safer, and creates less power imbalance in human relationships because he feeeeels this is true. Basically the Anglo-Saxons lived in a utopia we should all emulate.

This is the whitest book I've
Susan Oleksiw
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I picked up this book thinking the author would talk about craft in a more contemporary sense, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of his discussion and research. The author is an archaeologist who has made a personal career of connecting modern survivals of traditional skills and practices, some stretching back to the Neolithic Era, mostly in Great Britain, though he covers relevant material from Spain, France, and the Nordic countries. He discusses traditional practice ...more
Jan Bedol
Quite overwrought as to the meaning and etymology of "craeft." Langlands imbues the word with connotations of spiritual engagement and timelessness--- but for my skill- and craft-oriented life, the word "skill" does just fine. You cannot be truly skilled without full engagement, and skill itself is a connection with timelessness.

That said, it's fun to read about skills that I've never heard of, and the rural British (this is totally Anglophile; crafts of other regions don't figure in) atmosphere
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book as a goodreads first-reads win.

Such a beautifully written treatise on the value and place of craeft in our lives (more importantly, MISSING from our lives), and a break-down on how craeft originates in the environment around us, our natural resources determining the kind of crafts our ancestors created from those resources, from willow baskets to hazel woven hurdles, various types of thatching, and the manner in which boats were created.

This book DOES focus almost exclusively on
Read the last chapter of the book first and the tone of the work won't be as bitter. The working definition was unwieldy and included some thing that were not treated with as much care as others which were clear favorites that got pages of coverage. A lot of it was interesting but it just never quite hit the mark.
Mar 04, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, library
I was hoping for an interesting story about someone who found out how to do all sorts of medieval crafts. I thought it would be fascinating to learn about someone trying to do medieval beekeeping and thatching and such.

But this is really Langlands' chance to grandstand about how the old way is better. It's rather pretentious, and assumes an access to local resources, and the time, energy, and physical ability to make as much by hand as possible. While I do think that much of what is mass produce
in some ways this suffered from being a mere skim across so many crafts and it would have benefited from illustrations or photos. it reads like a private journal, which may appeal or not. it is as much a visit into the author's personality as it is into history. I actually did not find it to be at all the snotty critique of modernity many readers found it to be but more of a genuine call to examine whether tech really delivers what we assume it does and whether or not we disparage some old tech ...more
Laura Jordan
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This guy made me really want to plant a hedgerow. But, seriously, nothing about knitting? Sigh.
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I liked this a lot; it was very readable and the crafts he discussed were interesting. His discussion of how each these skills tie in to creating and maintaining landscapes and how his definition of craeft includes not only skill and knowledge about the production of the object, the bodily components of movement, and but also the knowledge to develop and use the resources in the landscape were both really interesting. I think he does have a point when he says that he thinks reintroducing craft t ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first picked up this book, it was with the expectation that I would be receiving an anthropological view at the history of certain crafts and how people have and maybe still do incorporate them into their lives. This was my first mistake. While I enjoyed this book to a certain degree, and I certainly learned some things, I find myself wanting to fact check almost everything I found in this book, so opaque were the rose-colored glasses Langlands wore while writing it. While I appreciate th ...more
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“I’ve always thought that creating machines for tasks we could just as easily accomplish ourselves is unforgiveable – the battery-powered pepper mill comes in for particularly venomous scorn in our household. It’s a potent symbol of a society that’s going backwards.” 0 likes
“As with any livestock, as soon as methods become commercial the risk of disease rises.” 0 likes
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