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Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work Audible – Unabridged

3.8 out of 5 stars 393 customer reviews

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By David McCune on May 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This could easily be the most important book a parent or young adult reads this year.

Matt Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft touched a chord with me. Both his life and his book are a rebuke to the assumptions which govern modern ideas about work, economics, self-worth, and happiness. Crawford would seem to have lived the American Dream right into his twenties. He finished his formal education (which, to judge by the breadth of references to literature and philosophy in the book, wasn't shabby) and was quickly hired by a Washington "think tank". Any young, aggressive climber would recognize this as a coveted place from which to launch of career. But where others would see a rapid ascent up the social pyramid, Crawford sensed emptiness. He left to work in a motorcycle repair shop, where he got his hands dirty, fixed bikes, and used his brain. Where others might see "mere" manual labor, he learned the value of a tangible skill. He now shares with readers his thoughts on this value, how it is vanishing from modern society, and the implications for us as a people.

Crawford traces the evolution of shop class, its intended and unintended consequences, and its subsequent rapid retreat from our schools. He lays out the historical transition from individual craftsman to interchangeable piece of a human assembly line during the industrial revolution. Much more frighteningly, he reviews how the same approach is well underway in the "white collar" information economy. Whether one has lived the absurdities of cubicle farms first hand or only through Dilbert, it is not hard to see how the modern, homogenized college prep education and liberal arts degree leaves a modern worker predisposed to try to fit as a cog in a modern information assembly line.
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Format: Hardcover
This is very nicely done. There is a dignity and elegance to hands-on work, and a pointlessness to much that's done in a cubicle these days, and the author does an impressive job of bringing both to the reader's understanding. Probably the expression in this book of what can be fulfilling about craftsmanship is unmatched. If you love working with your hands but have never put your finger (pun intended) on exactly what that magic is this book will make you smile. If you've never fixed something yourself it will have you tearing apart whatever you own that can still be serviced (probably not much) and chasing the feeling you got from reading about it. I've done a lot of mechanical work but never could have expressed its virtues the way Mr. Crawford has. Great job.

There are two problems. The first is the 'Malcolm Gladwell problem'. Remember when our founding fathers published pamphlets? Let's bring that back. This first appeared as an essay and probably should have stayed as one, it's just not full length book material.

The other problem is that he presents a simple truth which is only half the story. To the author, there is hand-work, in which feedback is absolute therefore the work stays meaningful, and office work, in which achievement is unnecessary and an accent on procedure over substance has ruined everything. What he's missing (and this is where some of the condescension toward craftsmanship Mr. Crawford bristles at so is actually based on a grain of truth) is that all these possibilities exist in both worlds, they're just more obvious in the hands-on. We have all gotten back a car that's still broken because a mechanic only followed the procedures in a shop manual he was ordered to follow by corporate hq.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's hard to put into words the message I got from this book. As a college graduate with dual degrees in economics and engineering who spends most of his day in a cubicle, pushing paper and feeling my soul drain out of my body, this book put into words a lot of the feelings and internal conflicts I struggle with daily. About a year ago, I grew tired of not working with my hands and using my creativity so I enrolled in a machinist training program at a local community college to satisfy my needs. I got so much out of working with my hands, it was almost therapy for me. The author writes about how much we can gain from working with our hands, stimulating creativity, problem solving, and a real connection with a tangible result from our work. Think of how many days you've spent at the office, making conference calls, sending emails and filling out spreadsheets, only to go home and wonder "What did I really do today? What is the proof of my work today?" Reading this book puts a lot into perspective and extolls the virtue of skilled trades, and the author urges a well-deserved re-examination of the skilled trades as a rewarding career option.
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Format: Hardcover
I connected with this book in several ways. First, while in Junior High (remember when it was called that) in the 60s I was told by my guidance counselor I couldn't take Shop II because I was on a college prep track and Shop 2 was for those kids who would be blue collar workers. The bias of those comments stuck with me all these years. Second, there is an option pursued by myself and many of my close friends. While I was a white collar worker my entire professional career my hobby was restoring and maintaining cars. I needed the satisfaction of that work so took it on as a hobby and developed mechanical proficiency many mechanical skills including engine and gearbox rebuilding. After reading this book I realized many of my close friends have the same approach. A teacher who built his own house. A doctor who hand builds kayaks. A CPA who welds, restores and works on cars. Somehow we all value working with our hands and while we don't do it to pay the bills we all do it to satisfy our souls to great success. Crawford explains why we all feel this way. All of these friends have now read the book and enjoyed it. Crawford nailed it.
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