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Editorial 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

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.

©2009 Matthew B. Crawford; (P)2009 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

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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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dave
  • Long beach, CA, USA
  • 01-05-10

Finally, a trades persons view of work.

They all don't need to go to college.
Crawford demonstrates the cognation necessary to be a skilled trades/craft person, and the utter enjoyment in doing a trade well.
Although, the diction used in his writings reminds me of my senior year philosophy professor, the book is enjoyable.

How likely is your mechanic, electrician, plumber, or landscaper going to be outsourced overseas? How likely is your job going overseas, are you sure? Ask a radiologist.

Listen to the book. Especially if you are a cubicle dweller, then you will see why we (tradespersons) get dirty and abuse our bodies for a living. And don't let the blue collar fool you, we have brains.

Thanks for the nice work Crawford.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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The Philosophy of Skilled Manual Work

Author Matthew Crawford makes a critically important point. The US society has come to severely undervalue skilled manual work, and this undervaluing is producing terrible consequences.

High school, which once was viewed as a preparation for entering the workforce, is now viewed as a preparation for college. High school graduates who do not go to college are viewed as failures, for both themselves and the high school. Employment requiring advanced degrees -- no matter how socially useless and soul destroying -- is given higher status than work in a skilled trade -- work which is useful and satisfying.

Crawford learns all of this the hard way, getting the degree, the soul-destroying job, and the epiphany to change careers to become a motorcycle mechanic. In part, the book is about his personal journey, but he uses his journey to illustrate how and where society has gone wrong in its value system, and how that value system is making people both unhappy and incompetent at life.

Crawford's story and philosophy are compelling. If this topic appeals to you, Shop Class as Soulcraft will delight you.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Rachel
  • YAKIMA, WA, United States
  • 05-05-12

Much as expected, good but not life-changing

I had been looking forward to reading this for some time. I am an artist, a craftsperson who works with her hands. I form functional objects out of clay using artisan methods and traditional tools. My husband fixes machines, like motorcycles and cars and airplanes (and whatever else comes his way). I obviously share the author's value for physical work, craftsmanship and process.

I never finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance, and at times this book, too, gets too much into motorcycles or cars specifically. I say this, knowing that for some readers this is what they are looking for. I, on the other hand, read the book for the discussion of manual labor and manual "arts" done for their own intrinsic and social value. I guess I would prefer a broader discussion that includes some discussion of my field, since I think it relates. (As I write this I realize that this sounds silly, I got what I ordered, I just want someone to make the connection between what I do and what this author does. Selfish, eh?)

Anyway, the book was interesting. If you think like him, read it and feel supported. If you are a newcomer to shop class, fixing things, making things, etc, read this and see why taking up the challenge of being a maker, a doer, of physically working through a problem or an idea is good for you.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Interesting but intense

I was expecting a lighter story - but it felt more like a college text than a discussion of the virtues of the trades. Good, but definitely not for listening while driving. Way too much concentration needed.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Narrator has to go!

I really enjoyed the this audio book but the narrator is killing me. It sounds like he puts quotes around every other major idea. If I were you I would buy the book on this one. I would usually never recommend this but in this case I would. I felt like I was being read to by a 3rd grader or being talked to like I was a third grader. The sentences didn't flow in any since of the word. I thought about recording myself reading this and sending it in just so people wouldn't hate this book. Sorry to rant so much about this but it really killed it for me. I have sat through some pretty bad reads but this takes the cake. Hopefully he was just directed poorly or something. Anyway, liked the book, hated the narrator. Hope this helps.

8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Ken
  • Lexington, NC, United States
  • 12-25-14

Easily recognized as true !!!

I shook my head up and down, the whole time that I listened !!! Thanks

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 06-20-09

a journey by the author

Interesting book about the author's journey through academia and into the trade of motorcycle repair. Aside from tripping into some heavy philosophical prose from time to time, the book was a delight. Solid narration too.

7 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Craig
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 01-14-17

Shop Class Missing from Dogmatic Polemic

I teach "shop class." This book was a purchase intended to enrich my life with meaningful wisdom about the virtues of reintroducing hand-work in schools as a pathway to an enriched life.


This book straddles two worlds, both of which exist in the mind of the author. This guy likes old motorcycles (who doesn't?). But, he expects that gives him the street-cred necessary to wax poetically (Greek poetry usually) about our crumbling state of personal self-reliance as a species. He wants us to feel that, if we just use our hands, we will be saved by some unseen and virtuous Dead-American-Crafters-Creed. However, he cannot get far enough past his stupid motorcycles to address any real issues about American Education. He uses so much mush-mouthed hyperbole that he misses his own and career readiness programs are mere classist drivel taught and managed by incompetent troglodytes.

I got so lost in Crawford's Marxist revisionism, and his faux universal philosophical handiman-codex, that I began fast forwarding to find some micro-nugget worthy of my time before I had to begin teaching my thirty 7th graders how to build inductor magnetos from scratch.

Do not waste a credit on this drivel. The author does not need the money or his ego inflated anymore than its current astronomical proportions.

I give this book two shifting spanners down...way down!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful