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Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Workby Matthew B. Crawford
Synopses & Reviews
A philosopher / mechanic destroys the pretensions of the high- prestige workplace and makes an irresistible case for working with one's hands Shop Class as Soulcraft brings alive an experience that was once quite common, but now seems to be receding from society — the experience of making and fixing things with our hands. Those of us who sit in an office often feel a lack of connection to the material world, a sense of loss, and find it difficult to say exactly what we do all day. For anyone who felt hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, Shop Class as Soulcraft seeks to restore the honor of the manual trades as a life worth choosing.
On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a knowledge worker, based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind. Crawford shows us how such a partition, which began a century ago with the assembly line, degrades work for those on both sides of the divide.
But Crawford offers good news as well: the manual trades are very different from the assembly line, and from dumbed-down white collar work as well. They require careful thinking and are punctuated by moments of genuine pleasure. Based on his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford makes a case for the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of manual work. The work of builders and mechanics is secure; it cannot be outsourced, and it cannot be made obsolete. Such work ties us to the local communities in which we live, and instills the pride that comes from doing work that is genuinely useful. A wholly original debut, Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a passionate call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.
"Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of making and fixing things in this masterful paean to what he calls 'manual competence,' the ability to work with one's hands. According to the author, our alienation from how our possessions are made and how they work takes many forms: the decline of shop class, the design of goods whose workings cannot be accessed by users (such as recent Mercedes models built without oil dipsticks) and the general disdain with which we regard the trades in our emerging 'information economy.' Unlike today's 'knowledge worker,' whose work is often so abstract that standards of excellence cannot exist in many fields (consider corporate executives awarded bonuses as their companies sink into bankruptcy), the person who works with his or her hands submits to standards inherent in the work itself: the lights either turn on or they don't, the toilet flushes or it doesn't, the motorcycle roars or sputters. With wit and humor, the author deftly mixes the details of his own experience as a tradesman and then proprietor of a motorcycle repair shop with more philosophical considerations. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This is a deep exploration of craftsmanship by someone with real, hands-on knowledge. The book is also quirky, surprising, and sometimes quite moving." Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman
"It's not an insult to say that Shop Class is the best self-help book that I've ever read....It's kind of like Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Slate
"We are on the verge of a national renewal. It will have more depth and grace if we read Crawford's book carefully and take it to heart. He is a sharp theorist, a practicing mechanic, and a captivating writer." Albert Borgmann, author of Real American Ethics
"A beautiful little book about human excellence and the way it is undervalued in contemporary America." Francis Fukuyama, New York Times Book Review
"Inspired social criticism and deep personal exploration. Crawford's work... should be required reading for all educational leaders. Highly recommended; Crawford's appreciation for various trades may intrigue readers with white collar jobs who wonder at the end of each day what they really accomplished." Library Journal
"A masterpiece filled with surprises." Steve Weinberg, Dallas Morning News
In this wise and often funny book, a philosopher/mechanic systematically destroys the pretensions of the high-prestige workplace and makes an irresistible case for working with one's hands.
"Every revolution in communication technology—from papyrus to the printing press to Twitter—is as much an opportunity to be drawn away from something as it is to be drawn toward something. And yet, as we embrace technology's gifts, we usually fail to consider what we're giving up in the process. Why would we bother to register the end of solitude, of ignorance, of lack? Why would we care that an absence had disappeared?"
Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean?
For future generations, it wont mean anything very obvious. They will be so immersed in online life that questions about the Internets basic purpose or meaning will vanish.
But those of us who have lived both with and without the crowded connectivity of online life have a rare opportunity. We can still recognize the difference between Before and After. We catch ourselves idly reaching for our phones at the bus stop. Or we notice how, mid-conversation, a fumbling friend dives into the perfect recall of Google.
In this eloquent and thought-provoking book, Michael Harris argues that amid all the changes were experiencing, the most interesting is the one that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That is the end of absence—the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished. Theres no true free time” when you carry a smartphone. Todays rarest commodity is the chance to be alone with your own thoughts.
To understand our predicament, and what we should do about it, Harris explores this loss of lack” in chapters devoted to every corner of our lives, from sex and commerce to memory and attention span. His book is a kind of witness for the straddle generation”—a burst of empathy for those of us who suspect that our technologies use us as much as we use them.
By placing our situation in a rich historical context, Harris helps us remember which parts of that earlier world we dont want to lose forever. He urges us to look up—even briefly—from our screens. To remain awake to what came before. To again take pleasure in absence.
When online experiences dominate our lives, what gets lost?
Only one generation in history (ours) will experience life both with and without the Internet. For everyone who follows us, online life will simply be the air they breathe. Today, we revel in ubiquitous information and constant connection, rarely stopping to consider the implications for our logged-on lives. Michael Harris chronicles this massive shift, exploring what weve gained—and lost—in the bargain.
In this eloquent and thought-provoking book, Harris argues that our greatest loss has been that of absence itself—of silence, wonder, and solitude. Its a surprisingly precious commodity, and one we have less of every year.
Drawing on a vast trove of research and scores of interviews with global experts, Harris explores this loss of lack” in chapters devoted to every corner of our lives, from sex and commerce to memory and attention span. The books message is urgent: once weve lost the gift of absence, we may never remember its value.
About the Author
Matthew B. Crawford is a philosopher and mechanic. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and served as postdoctoral fellow on its Committee on Social Thought. Currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, he owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.
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