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

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  8,196 ratings  ·  1,239 reviews
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
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published May 28th 2009 by Penguin Press (first published 2009)
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Francie Hey sorry, I never think to check my messages here! I think I was bored more than anything. There were definitely some good points made but nothing th…moreHey sorry, I never think to check my messages here! I think I was bored more than anything. There were definitely some good points made but nothing that wasn't common sense to me. I think I was hoping for earth-shattering wisdom.(less)
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Kevin Kelsey
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 en
Aug 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who work
Shelves: learning, philosophy, 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
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
Nov 02, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
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
Jun 23, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
May 23, 2009 rated it did not like it
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 philosophica
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Despite the fact that I 100% agree with Crawford on 90% of the book (his thoughts about modernity, the future of jobs, free market capitalism, and the fact that we are meant to work with our hands), the book sounded like an empty polemic. Plus, he's sexist as hell. How do you write a whole book about what it means to be a human and work and only talk about stereotypically men's work. What about care work? Cooking? Childcare? Not just that, but when he talks about what's wrong with the current wo ...more
Nov 08, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Oct 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
lark benobi
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 m
Mark Jr.
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, 2016
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 ca
May 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Aug 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Jan 25, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jamie Laing
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
Part philosophical musings, part treatise on the value of manual labor, and part memoir.

Little nuggets of good ideas are hidden away in here. I enjoyed the earlier chapters more than the later ones, as they are more concrete. Some of the main takeaways:

1) Crawford talks about outsourcing and how it's easy to move even white-collar jobs to another country, if you can boil down the process to a framework with steps to follow. But there will always be those few jobs rooted in a physical location th
Charles Haywood
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not a book about how you can make more money as a plumber than by going to law school. It is, rather, a book of philosophy, revolving around thoughts on alienation, self-reliance, and what we owe to others. I found it to be both a bit rambling and unexpectedly deep—it manages to connect the thoughts of Marx with those of Aristotle, and it combines practical thoughts on how one should earn one’s bread with advice for living a whole life. The net effect is worthwhile, though not earthshatt ...more
Jul 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: essay
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
Jun 12, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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 m ...more
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
Stephen Hicks
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 h ...more
Jan 28, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Carol Bakker
Jun 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Luke Barreto, Matthew Barley, Darrel Brann, Jim Harper
Recommended to Carol Bakker by: Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio Journal
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 i
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
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 definin
Sep 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: deep-thoughts
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
Nicholas Kotar
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I love this book.

The ramblings on culture and work of a mechanic-philosopher. Nuff said.
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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.

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54 likes · 9 comments
“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.” 32 likes
“When the point of education becomes the production of credentials rather than the cultivation of knowledge, it forfeits the motive recognized by Aristotle: "All human beings by nature desire to know.” 16 likes
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