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on July 30, 2014
I've read "Shop Class as Soulcraft" twice and have urged friends to read it, too. It's a super-interesting book, which draws on autobiography, phenomenology, and labor studies to make the argument that the manual trades are cognitively and morally superior to most white-collar "knowledge" work. Ironically, the argument is rather cerebral: the basic idea (or one of them anyway) is that manual workers are in touch with objective reality and must satisfy objective standards of excellence, whereas office workers spend much of their professional time managing perceptions of themselves. As someone who hated every hour I spent in an office drafting strategies, "talking points," and press guidance -- ephemeral performance art, at best -- the book spoke to me. (It also helped that I grew up in the SF Bay Area, like the author.)

Admittedly, the book has a few problems. As other Amazon reviewers have noted, the author makes sweeping generalizations on the basis of his two brief jobs in the "knowledge" sector and his readings of Jackall and Braverman. The book also has an underbaked, incomplete feel to it, as if the author had trouble working his ideas into a full-blown argument. And here and there there's a hint of reverse snobbery, as when the author writes knowingly of race tracks and grimy machinery while never letting his audience (made up overwhelmingly of white-collar book readers) forget that he has a PhD from the University of Chicago. Perhaps this makes him the last Renaissance Man. (Perhaps he drinks Dos Equis, too.)

However, the book is definitely on to something. It will stir up reflection and self-recognition in anyone who reads it seriously. I'm looking forward to the author's next work.
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on April 15, 2017
Technical trades are being disposed of in this world of computers and college. This book argues against that trend.

Robots will not be able to invent new products nor make the first prototypes. People will. Robots did not build the hydroelectric dams or the other power sources that enable the robots to even work. People did. Where would our civilization be without Edison or Tesla, Westinghouse or Ted Decot?

I understand the value of mentored technical skills from my family. It was really brought home to me when my nephew, in engineering college, and had been a talented electrician at the age of 16, proclaimed that the electrical engineers at the college knew less about the practical aspects of the electricians trade than he did.

And there is the main difference between technical and college education, where you start learning practical things right off in the technical world and maybe, if you are lucky, you will learn something practical in college. I have a broad college education but so many classes can spoil the magic of so many subjects.

Why shouldn't young adults be allowed to find their own occupations? Not everyone should go to college. Technical/ community schools are just as good for those who have interests there. Though I do strongly suggest that at sometime in one's life, it would do no harm to explore the experience. No learning is ever wasted, even if you find out what you 'don't want to be'.

Past generations learned from masters of their craft and possibly have more insight into their jobs than is available now.

My brother learned his occupation from people who had known Mr. Westinghouse and other greats, whose genius, not schooling, brought so much to our lives. He was introduced to other occupations so he can work with people with other skills in a knowledgeable way.
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on November 20, 2015
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I even recommended it to a friend who, like me, is enjoying the resurgence of "maker culture" and emphasis on craftsmanship. I didn't so much care for the authors "voice". He shifts from high-brow academic writing reminiscent of a grad student attempting to impress a professor to simple everyman style (complete with "f-bombs") at weird intervals. He could have written the book in either style and it would have been less distracting that the see-saw approach he used.
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on June 1, 2016
Great book for educational leaders and elitists to read and reflect--This is an important book, giving a passioned and insightful view of shop class in a way that the intelligensia can respect---Crawford's educational training and experience at the U of Chicago give him the credibility to make this strong case for shop class, the creative and intelligent students who grow and thrive through their experience and the necessity for making it more available to all students. Too bad that shop class has the historical stigma of the "fringe" student or the student who doesn't fit into a "college track" education. Irony is, the college track isn't what it used to be and we have a shortage of young people who can actually do things and work with their hands and their minds at the same time.
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on November 12, 2015
So this book is exactly what it says it is. A book over how America has bashed and degraded the blue collar workmen. If you think hey this would be a great book for my father because he likes to work on cars or in the woodshed, then don't get this book. This is more of a philosophical take on the american work force. Now does it have humor and stories that make you laugh and relate, yes. But about halfway through the book I felt as if he was just repeating he point he made in the first 5 chapters.
I'd buy it again and I know I'll read it again.
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on January 26, 2011
I'm a self-employed cabinetmaker with an MFA in Furniture Design from RISD, and, though I had liked what I heard in an interview with the author on NPR, I expected this book to be full of condescending romance about "Craft" with a capital C. I bought the book as ammunition in a dispute I'm having with my son's school over the termination of his metal shop class--they feel the students are better served by Computer courses. I got more than I bargained for. It's a great book, with very interesting personal observations combined with research into scary management trends, and an impressive knowledge in the areas of Sociology and economics. He makes a persuasive argument for what I've observed empirically: that there are very bright people in the trades, and that the trades can be satisfying intellectually, emotionally and financially. That you can find 'meaning' in the trades that can be elusive in much of the white collar world, and that working with your hands doesn't mean that you are not working with your head. The book has a lot of the Academy about it--in a good way--but it is also fun to read, and gives an accurate view from the trenches. Read it.

Some at my son's school are trying to reserve shop class for the bottom 10% of the class, and want them shipped to a remote vocational school for the privilege--basically writing them off. I'm going to send copies of this book to all the members of the school board.

Reed Karen
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on August 5, 2015
I very much enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it. I like the overall depth of philosophical commentary and the overarching theme of finding the "good" in life and the need to devise an individual pathway that allows one to flourish - sounds a bit like existentialism. I also admire the author's iconoclasm, and his willingness to question the consensus and reject it, if the consensus is not justified or deserving.

However, the black-and-white argument of working class versus educated class does not work. A working class position is not a guarantee to job satisfaction and fulfillment. It is much more complex than that. Although Crawford briefly recognizes this in his summary at the end of the book, this is surely the theme that is being promoted in the title and in the marketing of the book.

He hits the nail on the head on page 100 when he states that "Any discipline that deals with authoritative, independent reality requires honest and humility". This requirement is key in our work environment and should pertain to all endeavors, not just working class, hands-on positions. I am a scientist involved in medical product development. Honesty and humility are absolute necessities (tautology intended) in that field. When they are lacking, producing a good product is near impossible.
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on August 15, 2009
Make no mistake, this book is no easy read. It is a work of philosophy by a man who has a Ph.D. in the field. Still, anyone with even a basic familiarity with philosophy can read it with profit. If one lacked such preparation all they would need is a good dictionary. A friend of mine who is in a Ph.D. program recommended it to me when we were talking about my dream of restoring a muscle car on my own. What a great book!

This work touches on many different areas: from education, to anthropology, to the nature of work itself. I found myself largely agreeing with it throughout, although I would quibble on a few of the details. For instance, if I am reading him correctly, the author seems to get the history of modern scientific method wrong, and seems ignorant of new work on the Middle Ages. For a philosopher this is problematic (how can a professional philosopher not thoroughly understand scholasticism and the history of monasticism?) but that is the state of the academy these days.

I am no scholar, just a teacher with interests in music, history, theology, and philosophy. However, I recently had some life changing experiences that this book really speaks to.

With our conversion to Catholicism, and the commensurate arrival of our third child, my wife informed me of the importance of her staying home with the children. She desired to home-school them to provide them with a classical education, and that meant changes in my life (I was a Catholic school teacher at the time).

I had to leave my job in favor of public schools in order to make the necessary income for her to stay home, but that was only the first step. Expenses had to be cut, and drastically. I have had to find ways to save money and make it on one salary. The brakes were going on my car and I did NOT want to put the bill on my credit card.

A guy at Church told me that disk brakes were easy. I should do them myself. I bought a couple of books, looked on-line for vehicle specific directions (Auto Zone has a GREAT website), bought a ratchet set and got to work.

My friend was right. I replaced brakes and rotors and bought tools and books at it cost me less than it would have cost at a facility to get the brakes and rotors done for me. Plus, I was equipped to do it again and again.

That was just the beginning. She wanted new cabinets in the kitchen. I had to build them. My mom's car needed new plugs and wires. I had to do it (she lives with us and is on a fixed income). I have had to make MAJOR changes, and the biggest one is that I rarely have the money to hire people. I am redoing the back porch. I have been amazed at how much I love the process of doing all this work myself.

And, the thing is, I am truly happiest when I am doing this work. There is no time when I am more at peace than when I am trying to tackle a difficult new problem. My respect for the trades (and the men and women in them) has grown immensely. I am fortunate to love my job as well, but I really do believe that had I known what I know now about how fulfilling, intellectually stimulating, and rewarding the trades are, I might have skipped the four year degree and the masters, picked up automotive and electrical at the local community college, and saved myself and bundle and been just as fulfilled.

This book put flesh on an idea and expressed competently knowledge that I had come across experientially. Had I the chance to do things differently I probably wouldn't, but if my son (or daughter) informs me that they love working on the car with me and would like to do it for a living, I will certainly encourage them in their vocation. Two years ago, my stupid snobbery might have prevented that.

Also, this book clearly communicates why many of the electricians and mechanics I have met are some of the smartest people I have spoken to.

In as much as I am in a position to do so, I will advocate from now on for a return of the manual crafts in the classroom. Any high school education that doesn't teach someone to work a little with wood, and little about their car, and a little about the plumbing in their house is really no education at all.
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on September 20, 2013
Mathew Crawford is a smart and sophisticated intellectual but his personal work with repairing older model motorcycles gives him one foot in the traditionally blue collar world of physically making and repairing real things and one foot in the world of analysis and theory of how the world works.

This book is his calm and steady reflection on the importance of craftsmanship in our world. It is a polite and powerful response to a world that is focused on short term goals using virtual things like email and software.

One of my favorite ideas is page 16, early in the book: "A washing machine, for example, surely exists to serve our needs, but in contending with one that is broken, you have to ask what *it* needs."

In the world of computing in which I work, one encounters many engineers who feel as sense of control over their machines. They think they can make the machine do what they want by brute force of faster CPUs or more disk drives. But the small community of engineers focused on achieving high performance benchmark understands it as Crawford does: You have to understand how the computer works and what the machine needs in order to operate smoothly, at maximum performance without bottleneck or fault. Only then can you provide it with software tailored to its particular style of operation and meet your goals.

As you can see, I don't repair motorcycles, but I'm using the inspiration of this book's ideas on my own life. I highly recommend it to others.
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on September 21, 2012
1. This book is a reaction against the notion that all future jobs will be tied to a virtual world of work. We live in a physical reality of structures, equipment, machinery, tools, and this book makes a strong case for the value of making and fixing things. In particular, Crawford points out that many jobs will be outsourced overseas because knowledge industries are just as easily fostered, often more cheaply, in Asia where children and teens can and do learn math and sciences. But, you can not ship overseas the repair of physical things, including bridges or bodies and the infrastructure that makes up society.

2. He traces the cultural history in the West that has led to the prestigious status of knowledge-based jobs over manual-based jobs, and the general manual dis-engagement of work. He speaks with some authority because he traded in his PhD in philosophy and academic career to become a full-time motorcycle repair mechanic.

3. Crawford explains why he finds manual work more intellectually stimulating more meaningful (because it is more useful) and, in so doing, builds a case for young adults to seriously consider the trades and crafts careers. Real knowledge, he argues, arises through confrontations with real things.

4. He advances the notion of individual agency, the power to do things, not just think about them, or bypass them by purchasing a product. He suggests that most knowledge work is organized around a process of depersonalization, where a worker is usually answerable to a force not situated at the site of the work. By contrast, the work of skilled tradespeople is direct engagement with a process and product, where accountability is taken at the site of work.

5. In his conclusion, Crawford argues that more self-employment and self-reliance actually increases community because it increases our dependence on each other in the marketplace, rather than having our economic relations mediated by impersonal forces that further separate us from our labor and its produce. As a solo-preneur, I relate to this idea because, while I enjoy a certain amount of freedom and flexibility in my work, I am completely dependent on a supply of clients through market forces who keep me directly accountable for what I do.

Good stuff! It demonstrates for me the importance of getting a deep analysis of your natural inclinations as a young adult. Rather than succumb to social conditioning, we can make decisions based on our innate talents and motivations JobJoy: Finding Your Right Work Through the Power of Your Personal Storyin order to find or create work that recognizes, rewards and motivates us for what we do naturally and effortlessly.
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