Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
Matthew B. Crawford, . . Penguin Press, $25.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-1-59420-223-0
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.
Reviewed on: 04/20/2009