RC Book Review- Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford


Oh man, another scholarly guy’s book on tradesmen.Shop Class as Soulcraft by Mathew Crawford

By The Paul

Matthew Crawford is a scholar, his book celebrates the sureness and easy intelligence of people who work with their hands, so why don’t I like this book? Because its the same old white collar tribute to craft people that will only be read and understood by someone one with a PHD from a Liberal arts program. I looked forward to reading this book as it was a gift from a friend. Let me explain.

Good books are so much more than a good read, they are a window into the authors observations and a door to conversation and debate. A good book welcomes the reader into an understanding asking to be shared.

My problem

Opening the book you get the impression this is a college homework assignment. Its full of language many competent trades people couldn’t relate to, its a compact treatise on shop class written for people that admire a problem but do nothing about it, its a minute of discourse for the intelligentsia.

All bad?

No its not, in fact its a good book, but not a good read. It breaks the rules of communication and goes against the very nature of what it purports to be. So lets start here. The first 3 chapters or so define the authors values, opinions and and sets the tone for his increasingly theoretical posturings, Matt Crawford is an outsider on the fringe of “being one of us”, much like a roofer philosopher would always be on the outside of Crawford’s circle of professor colleagues. Chickens don’t hang around with pigeons and horses don’t hang around with cows and most manual workers would not be running around with lawyers, doctors or Matt Crawford and his friends no matter what we thought we have in common. In some regards our similarities define our differences.

The book.

In a nutshell white collar people end up in jobs that have no beginning, middle or end, blue collar people get to see the fruits of their labors. Mowing a lawn allows you choices, you can mow in straight lines, cross mow or even spiral cut a lawn and each of these options will give you a different looking lawn and all of them will result in a finished front yard. On the other hand office work is not much more than an assembly line of seemingly unrelated tasks and this book tells us we are building an increasingly disenfranchised workforce. Moralizing is kept to a minimum.

This critics conclusion.

Buy the book and read it, if you’re a high school only educated person like I am make sure you have a dictionary handy, Matthew Crawford didn’t write this book to talk to the people he envies, he wrote it to engage the academics and white collar professionals who think manual labor and cognitive thinking is a step below their own incomplete labors.

After finishing the book I found the author made his case for self reliance but at the same time reinforced what many blue collar people already knew, we are underestimated to a large degree and still in second place when it comes to getting credit for being as complex and complete as the school educated workforce.

Shop Class as Soulcraft is a good book buried in rhetoric.


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