Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft - An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Posted on Nov 29, 2022 - 0 min read.


An incredibly thorough and useful resource on what it takes to become a “Staff-plus” engineer. Becoming, and operating as, a staff engineer; writing team strategies; communicating effectively; getting “in the room”; negotiating salaries… It’s all covered here.

My thoughts

A thoughtful and intelligent deep dive into the origins of “shop class," the values of skilled manual labor, and the erosion of those skills due to their devaluation in education.

Crawford’s philosophical take on the intrinsic benefits of becoming a craftsman is thought-provoking, and his claim of the "dumbing down" of the individual through the devaluation of the trades sobering. I took away a lot from this book, primarily a shift in perspective on how I approach my own skills and craft. While I disagree with the way that his philosophy is sometimes applied to certain fields of work (e.g. a banker), I fully agree with its intention and purpose; which is that perspective, experience, and intuition are critical ingredients to affording the individual the opportunity to hone their craft... to be more than just a participant going through the motions. As Crawford said, "the truth does not reveal itself to idle spectators."

Favorite highlights

  • The disappearance of tools from our common education is the first step toward a wider ignorance of the world of artifacts we inhabit.
  • You give it your best, learn from your mistakes, and the next time get a little closer to the image you started with in your head.
  • People may inhabit very different worlds even in the same city, according to their wealth or poverty. Yet we all live in the same physical reality, ultimately, and owe a common debt to the world.
  • The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new.
  • Given the intrinsic richness of manual work—cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal—the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education.
  • I believe the mechanical arts have a special significance for our time because they cultivate not creativity, but the less glamorous virtue of attentiveness. Things need fixing and tending no less than creating.

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