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Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (Book Review)

Shop Class as Soulcraft explores the value of manual competence and the rewards of working in the trades versus working as a professional or knowedge worker. From this point of departure, author and motorcycle repair-shop owner Matthew B. Crawford tackles a number of thought-provoking and culturally immediate questions.

For example, is there a general under-estimation and under-appeciation of the intellectual rigor and challenges in the manual trades? Are some of the manual trades immune to outsourcing and should they be worthy of new consideration for otherwise college-eligible grads in the evolving world of outsourcing? Is there deeper personal and communal satisfaction in standards that -- in the trades -- are inherent in the work itself compared to more abstract measures of competence in other professional fields?

These are hard questions worthy of deep conversations and analysis. To that end, I'm very pleased that Crawford made the attempt.

As for the execution, though, I thought he hit it hard and long, but foul. The book was too uneven as the author traversed many different topics related to manual competence and the trades. In some cases, I wanted him to linger longer over a thread (as with trades and the new economy of outsourcing). In others, I felt he went into too much technical detail to fill in a chapter. Perhaps this is because the book was extended from an original essay. Finally, I think the ideas in this book would have appealed tremendously to a general audience, but for academic language and style that will surely turn some readers away.

Recommended for the trenchant ideas, but note the criticisms above, and definitely steer clear if you don't like academic prose.


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