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The Craftsman Hardcover – March 27, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
With this volume, author and sociologist Sennett (The Culture of the New Capitalism) launches a three-book examination of "material culture," asking "what the process of making concrete things reveals to us about ourselves." Taking in everything from Pandora and Hephaestus to Linux programmers, Sennett posits that the spirit of craftsmanship-an "enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake"-is tragically lacking in many areas of the industrialized world. Craftsmanship, by combining skill, commitment and judgment, establishes a close relationship between head and hand, man and machine, that Sennett asserts is vital to physical, mental and societal well-being; the symptoms of craftsmanship-deficiency can be found in worker demoralization, inefficiency and waning loyalty from both employees and employers, as well as other (largely institutional) effects. Sennett looks at the evolution of craftsmanship and the historical forces which have stultified it, how it's learned in the areas it still thrives (among scientists, artists, cooks, computer programmers and others), and issues of quality and ability (skill, not talent, makes a craftsman). Sennett's learned but inclusive prose proves entirely readable, and the breadth of his curiosity-delving into the minds behind the Manhattan project, touring Soviet suburbs, examining the methods of Julia Childs-take him in a number of fascinating directions.
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From The New Yorker
Sennett considers an array of artisans across different periods, from ancient Chinese chefs to contemporary mobile-phone designers, in this powerful meditation on the "skill of making things well." The template of craftsmanship, he finds, combines a "material consciousness" with a willingness to put in years of practice (a common estimate of the time required to master a craft is ten thousand hours) and a strategic acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism. Sennetts aim is to make us rethink the notion that society benefits most from a workforce trained to respond to the metamorphoses of a global economy. Ultimately, he writes, the difficulties and possibilities of craft can teach "techniques of experience" that help us relate to others, and lead to an "ethically satisfying" pride in ones work.
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Top Customer Reviews
Sennet uses many examples from the world of music to illustrate his thesis and he finishes with an explanation of the philosophical underpinnings of his ideas, pragmatism in this case.
This book has an extensive index and bibliography and his examples are well-chosen and illustrative and evidence of his wide understanding of the matter. Not a book to read on the beach or a plane or even at home in a week or so. It requires time and patience and is rewarding even when dipping into individual sections but the real benefit comes with the final section brings together the threads and leaves the (this) reader with much more understanding of this field of human endeavour than one had before.
I read this book very closely, pencil in hand, convinced that Sennett has contributed greatly to our understanding of what it means to be human in a machine age. I believe that his work has eclipsed Hannah Arendt's by now. Excellent.
Difficult to finish and I'm not sure it's worth the struggle.