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Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World Hardcover – May 27, 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this overwrought ode to doing it yourself, Make magazine editor Frauenfelder attempts to forge a deeper connection and a more rewarding sense of involvement with the world by making more of the things his family uses and eats. His DIY projects are varied—organic gardening, building a chicken coop, constructing cigar-box guitars, keeping bees, tutoring his daughter—and not uniformly successful: chickens get devoured by a coyote; the bees subsist on sugar-water handouts; his daughter fails the big math test. (Not to worry, he insists, since accepting mistakes is foundational to the DIY ethos.) Frauenfelder's hand-making procedurals are engaging, but, for him, practicality takes a back seat to spirituality, to living authentically, to grokking the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, the beauty found in an object's imperfections. He often presents DIY as a form of therapy: spoon-whittling isn't about spoons, it's about the calming and focusing effect of spoon-whittling. (And like most therapies, these projects often require lots of disposable income—a thousand dollars for a load of mulch!—and spare time.) People have hobbies because they are interesting and fun; by inflating hobbyism into a belief system, Frauenfelder doesn't add much to their appeal. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"This is a must-read book. Mark has lovingly and candidly documented the complex, myriad, intangible and often very tangible rewards of grabbing the world with both of your hands, and learning how it works."
- Adam Savage, Mythbusters

"What Mark Frauenfelder knows is that making a ukulele out of a cigar box is not just fun (and finally a good use for your thousands of old cigar boxes), it's a way of restringing and retuning your whole life. Buy this book, read it, and then maybe make it into a clarinet. I bet you can!"
- John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise and More Information Than You Require

"Why do otherwise well-adjusted people take to raising chickens in Studio City? What sort of contrarian spends a lot of time and money to kill his own lawn? These may be the projects of one quirky individual, but they point to something universal and true. Human beings find their proper home not in large-scale corporate structures but in the struggle for individual agency. You have to admire the doggedness with which the individuals in Made By Hand try to render their own world intelligible."
- Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft

"Frauenfelder has been at the center of the emerging maker movement, chronicling its rise as an economic force. Here, he describes a parallel evolution: his own embrace of making, as he applies the lessons he's been learning to his own life. It's as inspiring as it is entertaining. You'll never look at your lawn the same again!"
- Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief, Wired Magazine

"Made By Hand is a wonderful, thought-provoking, and timely book that shows us why and how we need to take back control of our lives. Now if only Mark Frauenfelder would put out a version written by hand on paper he made from the trees in his backyard."
- A.J. Jacobs, author of The Guinea Pig Diaries and The Year of Living Biblically

"Made by Hand is an absurdist essay on 'resistentialism,' defined as 'the theory that things have a secret agenda to make us miserable by fighting back against our efforts to use them.' It is the flip-side of self-sufficiency and independence-an example of the ongoing war between HAP (hire a pro) and DIY. Do you give in to the unassailable fact that you have no idea how things work, or do you embark on a quixotic (but potentially enlightening) attempt to figure it out?"
- Errol Morris, Academy Award-winning director of Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

"Frauenfelder believes - as do I - that the DIY ethic is only partly about the things you produce. It's also about learning how to learn, about connecting with others who share your interests, and about taking pride in your accomplishments. ... I think the book is great, and I encourage you to pick up a copy if you're at all interested in DIY."
-J.D. Roth, Get Rich Slowly

"Made By Hand is a wonderfully inspiring read and makes turning to a make-centric way of life feel not only approachable, but utopian."
-Jaymi Heimbuch, TreeHugger.com

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio; First Printing edition (May 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591843324
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591843320
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is approachable, fun, funny and gentle. Mark is a great writer, an inveterate tinkerer and one of the most important voices of the post-industrial age, but at the same time he's not afraid to tell you how often he screws up.

This book is also subversive, because his Tom Sawyer tales of handmade adventure will cajole you into abandoning some of your insulation and actually going out and making something.

I loved it. And now my PID outfitted espresso maker (I did it myself) is even better than it was.
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Format: Hardcover
If, however, you've never in your life had to be personally competent and you think it might be a lark to throw a bunch of money at half baked DIY projects, then by all means give this book a whirl. To be clear, though, you will find almost no instruction or valuable reflection.

I don't think I've ever written a review on Amazon before, though I'm a hefty consumer of mostly non-fiction books. I don't enjoy being negative, either, as I feel that any earnest attempt at something is at least a little bit honorable. Truth be told, I did learn something in this book; there are a few pages about a man named Edward Bernays who is the originator of psychological based marketing in the early 20th century that I found very interesting. Beyond that, this book ought to have been condensed by 70% and turned into a passable pamphlet.

This guy and his wife made money hand-over-fist during the dot com boom by being freelance writers. When the bubble popped, they found themselves with some vague sense of emptiness that couldn't be filled by their paid-off mortgage, sizable nest egg, or espresso so they logically decided to move to a small island in the middle of the Pacific where they'd vacationed for a short period a number of years prior. They sold the house during the grossly inflated real estate bubble and packed up only a big van load of the most important things to them. This included 13 pairs of shoes for his wife and an espresso machine worth as much as a used car. This well-thought-out plan turned sour when they were struck with the epiphany that it's difficult raising children without the support structure of friends + family and that living on a small Pacific Island isn't all up-side.

After 4.5 months they admit defeat and fly all of their stuff back home.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been interested in DIY culture for most of my life and love Make magazine as well as the O'Reilly "Hacks" series. Like the author, I think I inherited these tendencies from my father, while growing up in California. I have a brother whose own experience has closely paralleled that of the author.

Mark Frauenfelder's "Made by Hand" gives his readers permission to make mistakes while exploring the world of DIY (Do It Yourself, as opposed to HAP, or Hire a Pro) culture. A resident of Tarzana then Studio City, both suburbs of Los Angeles, he would seem like an unlikely choice for urban hillbilly. Frauenfelder's claims to fame include starting the popular blog "Boing Boing." and appearing in the first Errol Morris Apple commercial.

This is one of those recently popularized "experience" books, in which the author sets out to try something different, like living strictly according to the Old Testament or eating nothing but cheese for a year. Frauenfelder begins the book by describing a desire to escape urban malaise by moving to Raratonga, and quickly discovers the difference between being a tourist and a resident of a community. From that experience he discovered that his favorite part of the journey was "coconut day," when he would extract coconut meat with his daughters and cook it into scones or other goodies.

Upon his return to what passes for "civilization," Frauenfelder embarks on a 1.5 year program to emulate coconut day by slowing his life down through a series of DIY projects, including killing his front lawn, growing his own food, modding his high-end espresso machine, raising chickens, fermenting Kombucha, yogurt and sauerkraut, making musical instruments, raising bees and ultimately learning how to learn. Oh, and carving wooden spoons.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're looking for an earthy, back to nature, WalMart sucks kind of book for people who want to live simpler, less extravagant lives, free from the trappings of rampant consumerism, you might be disappointed. The book seems less about DIY and more about how you can waste a lot of time and money continually botching projects, requiring endless trips to Home Depot. It also gets off on the wrong start from the very first page, which describes Mark and his family moving to the remote tropical island of Rarotonga in the South Pacific; this seems to have a similar message as Eat, Pray, Love - spiritual enlightenment can be yours, but only if you can afford it. This pricey philosophy continues soon after with a chapter on how you can mod your $2000 espresso machine for only a few hundred dollars more - ah, the joys of knowing that you can afford the time and money for the perfect shot of caffeine. Further chapters involve gardening, which was charming enough; beekeeping, which was less so; and raising chickens, which I found rather sad in that his incompetence led to the deaths of several of his - and his daughter's - beloved birds. And finally, taken as a whole, there seems to be no grand philosophical message that you could take with you after reading this book; it just seems like a random collection of things that many of us do routinely every weekend. If you're interested in DIY, find something that interests you, and go find some books that would actually help you to, for example, carve wood, raise chickens, or build cigar box guitars. In the end, you'll find your own personal spiritual reward without having to read about someone else's muddled journey through DIY.
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