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

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

by Matthew B. Crawford

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A philosopher/mechanic's wise (and sometimes funny) look at the challenges and pleasures of working with one's hands 

Called "the sleeper hit of the publishing season" by The Boston GlobeShop Class as Soulcraft became an instant bestseller, attracting readers with its radical (and timely) reappraisal of the merits of skilled manual labor. On both economic and psychological grounds, author Matthew B. Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a "knowledge worker," based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing. Using his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford presents a wonderfully articulated call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101057292
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/28/2009
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 94,801
File size: 788 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

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 a postdoctoral fellow on its Committee on Social Thought. Currently a fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, he owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"It's appropriate that [Shop Class as Soulcraft] arrives in May, the month when college seniors commence real life. Skip Dr. Seuss, or a tie from Vineyard Vines, and give them a copy for graduation.... It's not an insult to say that Shop Class is the best self-help book that I've ever read. Almost all works in the genre skip the "self" part and jump straight to the "help." Crawford rightly asks whether today's cubicle dweller even has a respectable self....It's kind of like Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

"Matt Crawford's remarkable book on the morality and metaphysics of the repairman looks into the reality of practical activity. It is a superb combination of testimony and reflection, and you can't put it down."
-Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard University

"Every once in a great while, a book will come along that's brilliant and true and perfect for its time. Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft is that kind of book, a prophetic and searching examination of what we've lost by ceasing to work with our hands-and how we can get it back. During this time of cultural anxiety and reckoning, when the conventional wisdom that has long driven our wealthy, sophisticated culture is foundering amid an economic and spiritual tempest, Crawford's liberating volume appears like a lifeboat on the horizon."
-Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots

"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

"Matt Crawford has written a brave and indispensable book. By making a powerful case for the enduring value of the manual trades, Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a bracing alternative to the techno-babble that passes for conventional wisdom, and points the way to a profoundly necessary reconnection with the material world. No one who cares about the future of human work can afford to ignore this book."
-Jackson Lears, Editor in Chief, Raritan

"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

"Shop Class as Soulcraft is easily the most compelling polemic since The Closing of the American Mind. Crawford offers a stunning indictment of the modern workplace, detailing the many ways it deadens our senses and saps our vitality. And he describes how our educational system has done violence to our true nature as 'homo faber'. Better still, Crawford points in the direction of a richer, more fulfilling way of life. This is a book that will endure."
-Reihan Salam, associate editor at The Atlantic, co-author of Grand New Party

"Crawford reveals the satisfactions of the active craftsman who cultivates his own judgment, rather than being a passive consumer subject to manipulated fantasies of individuality and creativity."
- Nathan Tarcov, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

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.
- Publishers Weekly, Starred review

Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Crawford presents a fascinating, important analysis of the value of hard work and manufacturing. He reminds readers that in the 1990s vocational education (shop class) started to become a thing of the past as U.S. educators prepared students for the "knowledge revolution." Thus, an entire generation of American "thinkers" cannot, he says, do anything, and this is a threat to manufacturing, the fundamental backbone of economic development. Crawford makes real the experience of working with one's hands to make and fix things and the importance of skilled labor. His philosophical background is evident as he muses on how to live a pragmatic, concrete life in today's ever more abstract world and issues a clarion call for reviving trade and skill development classes in American preparatory schools. The result is inspired social criticism and deep personal exploration. Crawford's work will appeal to fans of Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and 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

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Shop Class as Soulcraft 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
NJMetal More than 1 year ago
I preform physical blue collar mechanical related labor for a living so I figured I would readily identify with this book. What I did not realize was how deeply steeped in philosophy this book really is. This book takes deeper philosophical journies into basic values and principals of hands-on physical labor to attempt to demonstrate their inherint value over more information based office enviroment type labor. The arguments are well made and studiously supported with citations. However the deeper philosophical explorations are where the book really loses me. Granted, that is where most philosophy related book lose me. I won't hold it against the author. I did find that the conclusion were still very opinionated despite the well supported arguments. I was still not convinced that being a motorcycle mechanic was any more gratifing to the soul then an environmental think tank consultant. It still comes down to point of view, even if the author held a first hand knowedge of both points of view. If you like book like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance then you may well like this. But if that type of book is not your cup of tea this certainly won't be either
cjhTX More than 1 year ago
It has many good ideas but is not well constructed in terms of readability. I had to push myself to finish the book because I felt I had gotten the message early on and continuing to read left little to be gained as it did not entertain me. The message that the value of 'hands-on, physically productive' work is generally not appreciated in our society is valid. Yet, according to the author, in its many forms, it commands a generous income and leaves the producer with a sense of inner satisfaction not found in much of the corporate world where shuffling papers, attending meetings, etc. leaves little real sense of accomplishment/satisfaction. The author's supposition that there will be an increasing need for people who 'fix things' or do the other mundane tasks that keep our cultural substructure going resonates while there is an increasing push by parents that their children attend college to learn to do more 'meaningful' work. College may not be the best choice for everyone.
Meshugenah More than 1 year ago
I expected a lot more of this book. I'm one of those well-educated people who also ditched the corporate world and executive positions to do something where my head and hands worked together. However, I found the author's perspective to be arrogant and pedantic, patronizing and, frankly, oftentimes juvenile. As a philosophical treatise this book is sabotaged by the elements of political diatribe. I would not recommend it to anyone.
Anonymous 4 months ago
I just read this for the second time in about ten years. I still think it is a great book with lots of questions we should be asking ourselves as a society.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had huge expectations for this book. After all, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is my all-time favorite read. Shop Class was a huge disappointment, probably due to my huge expectations. It reads with a mix of the stilted verbosity of academia and the incomprehensible (to me) vocabulary of mechanics. I kept reading, hoping to see why others liked it, but it did not happen for me. Love to know what others liked about this book. It is the rare read that I trudged through, flipping ahead on almost every page, hoping to reach the end.
horacewimsey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Makes me wonder why I ever went to college, and then to law school. Of course, since I'm not in the least technically inclined, maybe I'm cut out to be a pencil pusher.
fiadhiglas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author has many interesting and thought-provoking ideas, but a lot of them are misguided, at best. Also, the book reads like his real point is, "I'm smarter and better-educated than you!" For that reason alone, I won't be recommending it to my husband, who I originally thought might like it.Also, the author holds many misogynistic attitudes that he doesn't even seem to notice he is displaying -- 95/100 pronouns are male, as if women don't work; he calls corporate culture a "nanny state" and his contempt for diversity and emotional intelligence, among other things, is crystal clear; his assertion that "telling dirty jokes" at work is a *benefit* of jobs in the trades that office workers, those poor saps, don't get to enjoy.He is apparently married with small daughters. I hope he eventually learns that women are fully human, just like men are -- before his daughters read this book.
sullijo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Crawford offers an insightful critique of our modern notions of "knowledge" and a profound treatise on how the "useful arts" -- work that requires real skill and practice to master -- combines the best of both manual and intellectual engagement. This book has made me want to learn some manual skills, starting with some basic woodworking.
linedog1848 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There might not have been an entire book's worth of material in this subject, but it was well written and engaging. My gripes with the work are minimal, but worth mentioning: First, the unfortunate phrasing by the author from time-to-time suggesting his own internalization of the elitist judgment of labor on which the work ostensibly seeks to disprove. Second, that as a topic book of social forces, Crawford's best arguments derive from first principles--appealing to forces every reader has felt and therefore accepts on some level as intuitively true. The arguments are (I think) weakened when he transitions to evidence from social sciences and other such non-practical work that is generally passed as less valuable. There's not enough of it to present an empirical case, so what there is of empiricism gives the appearance of cherry-picking. Third, for me the narrative was not enhanced by his re-hashing of the spiritual aspects of mechanical maintenance from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig. These points were good from Crawford, and just as true, but are more poignant in their original context than as used here to give a narrative cohesion to this topic. Finally, Crawford seems very much on his game regarding social forces, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt that either A: His literary agent, B: his editor, or C: the publishing house are responsible for the framing context of the title and the cover art which seem shamelessly to seek to ride the coattails as the ideological progeny of Zen and the Art. . . though possibly better suited to a long article than a book, the intellectual impact of Crawford's thesis needed no assistance by aligning itself with another idea with established mass market appeal. That the content of this book is wrapped in emotion-evoking imagery and framed with covert association to works with which it has no natural connection seems ridiculously ironic. It kind of reminded me of the feeling I had walking into Costco one morning and seeing the part of the Pixar movie "Wall-E" that condemns Western Consumerism playing in sync on a hundred jumbo plasma-screen TVs.With all that said, I found the read very enjoyable, enriching, and it gave me a new perspective to examine my life, my behavior, and my world--and that is the sign of excellent writing.
ebnelson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A metaphysical exploration in the meaningfulness of work by an author who is both a professional knowledge worker and a professional craftsman. Although at times a bit too existential for some people¿s taste, it serves as a very accessible dialog on what constitutes meaningful work and intellectual engagement. Detailing the metachanges in how Americans view work since the Ford¿s advent of mass production, Crawford gives a well-reasoned apology for craft work both economically and, more importantly, to ensure engaged and meaning-filled lives of the masses. Works well along side A Brave New World.
CosmicBullet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This work compares favorably with Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. For me, the early chapters come across a little on the dense side, however, as Crawford seems to be establishing his credentials as a serious philosopher. I bogged down a little bit there. But I confess to being attracted to and reading Shop Class as Soulcraft primarily for its value to me as a kind of remedial course in the value of hands-on work -- especially work that converts me from being a kind of spectator in some assemble-by-the-numbers charade to becoming a genuine here-and-now mechanical problem solving Zen master. Thanks, Matthew, for the pep talk. I have broken out my Craftsman manuals again with their exploded diagrams and detailed bills of materials, and have begun to order parts - subsequently to tear into and finally repair some of the ailing machines in my tool shed! From experience, I know that the process will not be without some improvisation, as rusted bolts and missed tolerances inevitably will depart from the ideal. But via Crawford's book I am reminded of the value and reward of working through these unanticipated details.
BlackSheepDances on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was just released in May and it's fascinating. It espouses the return to good ol' manual labor! The author's conjecture: he likes to work on motorcycles and feels good when he does. But he takes that further and shows new studies regarding work that are surprising, especially considering what mainstream beliefs have been regarding blue collar work. He finds in his own work, as well as informal study and in tremendous research that hands-on workers, such as plumbers, painters, mechanics, and builders report more job satisfaction than a white collar, 'stuck in front of a computer monitor' executive. And, even more interesting is that in most cases, these workers end up making more money too, and their jobs are less fragile in a bad economic downturn. Common sense really, as we will get our toilets fixed and our cars running even if we are broke!The author has nothing against higher education, but he points out that most guidance counselors push students into colleges with loftier hopes than are generally realized; and in fact often sneer at students that take more humble ROP or trade classes. And he backs it all up with data that supports his belief.He then dips even further into the mind set of a manual worker: the joy from hard work, and the ability to see a project progress right in front of them, start to finish. To start a project and finish it within a few days and realize his goals on a tactile, personal level. The ability to make decisions that directly impact his work space and work goals by being more in charge of his time and resources. He also shows that the typical "ideal" employee graph would show a worker starting at an entry level position (hands on) and then working into management and further up, yet the rate of job satisfaction decreases the higher up they rise! So the "ideal" promoted by schools and colleges needs to change.He's not suggesting that an employee have no ambition or drive, but rather to excel in what they do and take pride in it, and not be pressed to promote himself at the expense of his craft. Even specialization, often looked upon as a negative, actually makes their work more valuable. He suggests that mechanics or other tradespeople develop within their skills even more specialized skills and focus on excellence rather than self promotion.All in all, a fabulous read. Sort of along the lines of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but it actually discusses more about motorcycle maintenance and about the world of a mechanics shop (camaraderie, dirty jokes and all!).
librarianbryan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The premise is pretty much summed up in the title. Escape Dilbert-land. Learn a craft. Make a living from your craft. I get it. Pirsig-lite.
bkinetic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoy books like this that explore topics that are not a part of conventional mainstream discussion. The author makes very good points that are not being made elsewhere. Unfortunately it reads like a master's thesis. It needs to be rewritten to get the message across more effectively and without the heavy academic style.
motjebben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Okay. One is not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I'll admit that the cover (with the motorcycle in front of the shop) is the first thing that attracted my attention.I'm certain that I'm primed by years of enjoying woodworking, metalworking, old engines and other hobbies, and even having had a motorcycle for a short period when younger, to being attracted to such images. I see a shop in the picture and think of building things and tinkering with gadgets (like, perhaps, the motorcycle).Though I'm certain that such priming can "go the other way", the imagery evoked in me is pleasant, perhaps, not only because I, too, sense the intrinsic worth and satisfaction of a "job" well done, but because I have also not had to suffer the potential realities of working in what Crawford explains is presently a devalued vocation.Therein lies the rub for me: I grew up thinking that I would be able to apply my engineering education in highly creative and "intellectual" ways (and often have been able to and have become accustomed to the pay!), but have become increasingly disillusioned by the efficiencies espoused by modern corporate and economic culture and increasing distancing from "touching the actual gadget" being engineered!.That is why, once I was captured by the cover, I was intrigued by the title of the book, and found myself purchasing it to discover more. And I am glad I did! It is stimulating to read Crawford's musings about the advantages of "craft work" and "working with one's hands", though he readily points out that more money can be made elsewhere. I wonder, if, as Crawford even briefly discusses was the case at one time for many, the answer for me is that I can attempt to enjoy my increasingly productivity-oriented and "remote" engineering work, and still make time for the more creatively indulging hobbies.Perhaps for others that are not already accustomed to a particular vocation and pay, or even more ideally, the pendulum swings back to valuing crafts in both an intrinsic and monetary way, an even more satisfying way can be had.The "Shop Class as Soulcraft" provokes such thoughts and imaginations - I recommend it!
chrisod on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wanted to love this book, but I just couldn't. I agree with the author thesis, but unfortunately the book reads too much like a master's thesis. It just wasn't fun to read, even though I mostly agree with everything he was saying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Half smart. Well researched. Guy is clearly worried about his manliness and the over compensation makes this a tedious read. Probably best to choose one of his sources e.g. Mike Rose's Minds at Work and read that instead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very insightful. I love how this guy (A Motorcycle Repair Man/Writer) approached his career choices. I will want my kids to go to college and all that, but I'll definately keep some of these insights in mind when advising them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SportCoach More than 1 year ago
In some ways this is an extension of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but only in concept. This book will make you think. It's written with complex sentence structure. Likely can help parents direct kids in choosing satisfying, good work.
JohnK1 More than 1 year ago
This was an ok book, but it could have been written better. The first few chapters were very interesting and enjoyable to reed. The author went on to tell us how blue color work is undervalued and miss under stood in todays society. But after that, the book becomes very dry and some what hard to reed. I began to loose interest and decided to stop reading it all together. Over all, I would recommend a different book if you are interested in reading about the values of blue caller work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an aircraft mech. it made me reevaluate what I do and how I do it. Currently my work place is starting a CI culture and this book has made me take a closer look at that program
Anonymous More than 1 year ago