Recently I read Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft after seeing his interview on Colbert. I had been intrigued when he talked about the value of working in the mechanical trades vs. having a mind-numbing white collar “clerk” job in an office. (You can see my previous post on the Value of Working with Your Hands if you want my argument in a similar vein). Then I got his book out of the library and started reading it. I was a bit disappointed.
I agree with the general premise of the mechanical trades being intellectually engaging due to problem solving and knowledge accumulation needed in order to perform the job. I also agree that there is an overabundance of unnecessary college (and higher) degrees in our society. But I didn’t like the style of his writing. It felt like a treatise and was a bit cumbersome to get through. I also found his ideas placed throughout the book somewhat haphazardly with no cohesion to pull them together.
My biggest problem with this book was its lack of conclusion. It was written like a research paper, but it never offered any solution to the problems that he touched on. It didn’t say what would happen if our society continued on its present path and it didn’t discuss ways we could interest more kids in the mechanical trades. He just kind of ran out of chapters and published it unfinished. At least it seemed that way to me. I felt that this could have been better as an essay. I then found out that he actually converted the book into an essay for the Times Magazine, and it was a better read, though the focus was still on his personal experience as an over-educated “knowledge worker.”
A glaring omission was his choice to ignore designers, craftsmen, and engineers – the people who actually create the objects that we use and potentially need repaired. He said that he wanted to “avoid the kind of mysticism that gets attached to ‘craftsmanship.'” He also ignored the burgeoning DIY movement. He mourns the loss of the days when people could fix their own cars and appliances, but he ignores the people these days who are enraptured with home repair and design. There are endless blogs, books, classes, and whole networks devoted to this industry, yet he didn’t even acknowledge it.
As you can tell, I was mostly frustrated with this book. But, and my husband can attest to this, the concepts infected my thoughts for some time after I finished the book. I just wish it had been written differently, perhaps for a different audience. I also wish there had was a conclusion drawn, or a call to action, or something that wrapped it up. It felt like he pointed out a problem (or problems) to me and said “that sucks,” and walked away. It ended up seeming a justification for his own life choices.
Have you read this book? Do you agree or disagree? Go read the essay and let us know what your thoughts are on his ideas. Leave a comment and keep the conversation going.