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Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft

shop class as soulcraftThe full title of the book is Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value of Work. Matthew B. Crawford is a big-brained intellectual who is also able to fix motorcycles and in general sounds like a pretty handy fellow to have around.

He worked for a think tank for a while, decided he hated it, and left the money and the theorists to get out into the blue-collar world and get his hands dirty–work which he finds satisfying, useful, and under-appreciated.

Much of the book discusses his concerns over the “knowledge economy,” meaning the world of work in which physical goods do not get produced and even office processes are increasingly automated. Also, he takes a long look at the importance of being independent and self-reliant. I personally am not a handyman. I appreciate it that I am able to pay experts to do repairs for me, but it also nags at me that I need to depend on others, as it now stands.

He also discusses what he sees as the spiritual and emotional benefits of working with one’s hands; how labeling something “blue collar” work often becomes a pejorative; how white collar work has much in common with the drudgery that those naysayers look down on when discussing blue collar work.

The book is also heavy on theory. It’s a book of philosophy and theory, a love letter to greasy garages and those who work behind the scenes to maintain things for those of us who can’t do it for ourselves.

I come from a background of very hard workers, what most would call “men’s men.” I’m the first of us that works almost purely in Crawford’s knowledge economy. Shop Class as Soulcraft raised a lot of great questions for me and gave me some new ideas to work on in the quest for Better.

For March’s book selection we’re going to be reading Watership Down by Richard Adams. Time to get your rabbit on!



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bill March 1, 2011, 8:14 pm

    I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while. Some of what you include in your review reminds me of Pirsig’s Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Does Crawford mention the book at all? His subtitle is also a nod to Pirsig that piques my interest.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 2, 2011, 1:58 pm

      Bill, he does mention it a few times. I haven’t read it yet.

  • Bill March 5, 2011, 6:53 am

    Looks like we’re up for a book swap. Thanks for your review; I hope to get to “Soulcraft” ASAP!

  • Stephen Michaels March 8, 2011, 9:11 am

    I’m about 1/4 through this book. The author’s comments on Best Buy and Richard Florida are absolutely brutal and hilarious. I often daydream about what I would do differently if I got to start my life over from high school. I would definitely not let my fear of the bullies in shop class keep me from taking it instead of typing and graphic arts the second time around.