Shop Class as Soulcraft

  • by Matthew B. Crawford
  • Narrated by Max Bloomquist
  • 6 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 those 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.

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Audible Editor Reviews

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An inquiry into the Value of Work hit the press at a historically significant moment. The economic crisis that began in 2008 continues its seismic re-landscaping of the globe in 2009. Assumptions once thought rock-solid now lay in shards at our feet. Matthew B. Crawford, a Ph.D. in political philosophy, has written a book about the value of work that expands from his personal history into an ethical treatise and manifesto of stunning polemic breath and scope. Crawford, after earning his degree, was offered the job of director of a think tank that paid a huge salary. "i landed the job at the think tank because i had a prestigious education in the liberal arts, yet the job itself felt illiberal: coming up with the best arguments money could buy. This wasn't work befitting a free man." After five months Crawford left the think tank and became a professional motorcycle mechanic, opening the repair shop Shockoe Moto. Max Bloomquist narrates Shop Class with tonalities and a vocal range that nicely match Crawford's mixed social registries of mechanic, non-conformist, and Ph.D. — all the while managing to sound like your regular normal guy. indeed, Bloomquist seldom veers from his baseline down-to-earth, optimistic voice, a voice you might imagine coming from a PBS television network teacher of the mechanical trades. But Bloomquist moves out from this baseline voice with an expressive clarity and resonance that color Crawford's subject. These qualities especially reveal themselves as Bloomquist nicely frames some of Crawford's denser analytical arguments.Shop Class takes critical and incisive aim at the corporate workplace, consumerism, our educational system's unbalanced tilt towards higher education at the expense of the skilled manual trades, and our relations with our own "stuff". The central concept enveloping and linking these various themes is "agency". "This book grows out of an attempt to understand the greater sense of agency and competence i have always felt doing manual work, compared to other jobs that were officially recognized as 'knowledge work'. Perhaps most surprisingly, i often find manual work more engaging intellectually. This book is an attempt to understand why this should be so." —David Chasey

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What the Critics Say

"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)
"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." (Library Journal)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A profound look at work, and what we've done to it

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the author starts off by making assertions about the condition that work is in, and how we destroyed the merit of manual labor, and how we're in the process of destroying "knowledge work". As an industrial engineer I could not agree with him more. The author does tend to wear his heart on his sleeve (and I'm guessing he and I tend to vote differently) but none of this invalidates his arguments. The author has a clear understand of what makes some work feel soul crushing while other work feels more rewarding. His criticism of sending every student to college feels valid in this day and age where many students are in college seeking approval from there parents rather than knowledge. A must read for anyone in Industry/management/engineering. On a personal note, my hope for this book is that managers take heed of what he says, or at the very least other writers of industry take heed and begin to offer logical solutions to the degradation of work in industry.
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- Nathaniel Muzzy

Mercedes Have No Dipstick

Crawford touches on a number of deeply interesting topics. If you’ve given them any thought before then this book will be an instant favorite. If you’ve never given any of these topics any deeper thought, you’ll think the book is pointless and repetitive. It’s not a meandering philosophy book like “Zen and the Art of Motorcycling Maintenance” but if you liked that book, you’ll love this one too. It is not a light-minded biker trope either so if OC Choppers is what you’re looking for, this isn’t it.

Essentially the book is about how dependent the modern consumer society is without being preachy or self-righteous. The details of this dependency are how disconnected we are from the products we use, how the concentration of power causes this disconnectedness regardless of whether that power is concentrated in government or corporations, and the role of a college education in training us to be dependent and easily led.

He contrasts how early motorcycles required extensive hands on operation such as manual oiling, kick starts, and the like whereas a modern Mercedes doesn’t even have a dipstick. Our alienation from the products we use every day and the sense that we don’t completely own our “own stuff” anymore since we are dependent on the dealership to diagnose the onboard computer. This, as opposed to being able to open the hood, and readily see the engine and its various components just a few years ago.

All of this and he manages to not get overtly political or to bore us with possible policy changes to “correct” the wrongs he cites. But he does deal with some larger ideas that most people are ignorant of so it is probably a better book for an engineer or maybe the shop owner than the guy who’s interest in the world doesn’t extend beyond the fender wells.
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- Ray

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-28-2009
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio