Rob'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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's review
Nov 02, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: 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 wholeheartedly support - but this book is mostly wasted space. There is material for a REALLY good essay in here that has been spun out and unnecessarily padded to make an entire book.

It is the very quality of this thesis which renders the book so maddening. Every time he comes within sight of a topic that might take the book outside the narrow sphere of justifying his own choices, the matter is touched on briefly, then discarded in favor of the author's experiences, which are interesting, but offer little in the way of real insight.

As the author presented his thesis I was full of excitement - this could spill into discussion of the resurgence of maker culture, the growth of open source, the hacker ethos and so many other vibrant modern movements that celebrate this idea of making and working with real things. Sadly, it was not to be, and these experiences are apparently limited solely to the author and those whose work he understands and participates in.

In places, they even work against him. One of the brighter points of the text is a dissection of corporate team-building, which is promptly undercut by his tales of his own white collar experience, presented as typical. If you had a college degree and were making 23k a year in Silicon Valley in the 90's, you were not a white collar worker, you were a rube - you could have made more working at Taco Bell. The kind of place that treated workers that way would naturally be exactly the worst kind of environment, and while I'm sorry the author ended up in that situation, he's extrapolated a lot from it.

All this might be forgivable if this was a primarily biographical text, but it's not. It's a polemic, and not a very good one. Elements of biography are used well, but then they are used as launching points for rants supporting the author's pet political, social and philosophical ideals.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it very successfully refactors a lot of The Communist Manifesto into modern terminology. That sounds facetious, I know - comparing the author's works with Marx seems like an idea out of left field - but it's an almost inescapable conclusion in parts. The author's own citations of Marx and his supporters suggest this may be intentional (it would be more troubling if it was not) but the disdain for intellectuals coupled with the strong emphasis of the strong moral virtues of the worker (a specific sort of worker, in fact) make the comparison inescapable.

A number of reviews also left me with the impression that there would be some treatment of the role and value of vocational education. This is simply not the case, which is intensely disappointing. This seems to be one of those books that makes a great summary and is frequently reviewed on the strength of that summary, rather than the far weaker book it represents.
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Reading Progress

November 2, 2009 – Shelved
Started Reading
November 5, 2009 – Shelved as: pos
November 5, 2009 – Finished Reading

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