Rarely has a book so engaged me as Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, which is a fresh look at the intrinsic value of work. When I first picked up the book, (hardcover $25.95 list; The Penguin Press 2009) I had hoped it might continue where Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jerome’s Truck left off. What I found instead was a refreshingly accessible and beautifully composed, treatise on the philosophy, psychology and sociology of work – good, honest, real, physical work.
Crawford’s book takes a heartfelt, intelligent and authentic look at the true human cost of outsourcing manual labor and craft of all kinds, while dicing the remaining white collar toil into ever smaller cubes used to feed a new kind of assembly line. Carefully crafted arguments teased from masterful works of philosophy, sociology, psychology and economics provide a sound framework for Crawford’s artful and compelling narrative. The bottom line is that humans crave physical work and associated creative processes for a reason – and it has everything to do with human vitality.
If you ever feel compelled to repair your own tractors, or wonder about that compulsion to keep an old pickup truck on the road. Or if you wonder why it is that you rush home after a grueling day on the line or in the cubicle to build some fences and tend to your garden and livestock. Matthew Crawford’s book Shop Class as Soulcraft will help you understand why. If you have never thought about work as play or as inner fulfillment, now’s the time to take the plunge.
I try to read a few books each month. I naturally gravitate to titles relating to animal husbandry, farm and ranch management and the care and feeding of old agricultural machinery. Sometimes it’s a novel that catches my eye. I am not generally prone to reading sociology or philosophy, but like some instantaneous addiction, after the first sentence of Shop Class as Soulcraft I only hungered for more. Matthew Crawford is every bit a masterful wordsmith as he is a mechanic – exercise caution while opening his book because once you pick it up you will mourn having to put it down.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.