Sheila at Book Journey hosts a weekly meme in which we share what we are reading that day.  Ideally, we will get ideas from each other on some intriguing titles we hadn’t heard of before.

Shop Class

I am reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford.  In this book, Crawford makes a strong case that we as a society have gone in the wrong direction by steering young people away from skilled trades and into four-year colleges to become “knowledge workers.”  He believes that many office workers (what he calls “knowledge workers”) often feel a sense of meaninglessness because we have lost the connection to the material world.  Instead, he thinks more people should be encouraged to experience the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of skilled manual labor.

He emphasizes that he is not speaking in his book about rote assembly-line work, but about skilled workers such as electricians, carpenters, and mechanics.  In fact, he point about that skilled tradespeople often experience more cognitive stimulation than many “knowledge workers,” whose work has  become more and more rote over the years.

I think Crawford makes a strong case, and I completely agree with him.  I think it is misguided to insist that everybody is better off with a four-year college degree or to believe that manual trades are somehow “less” than “white-collar work.”  I think this argument needs to be made more often, so that more people get the message.

My main critique of Shop Class as Soulcraft has to do with the style in which it is written.  Although Crawford has worked as a mechanic and electrician, he also has a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy. This book is written by a philosopher, which gives it depth and richness, but also a certain inaccessibility.   I have nothing against academics in the humanities (being one myself), but I do wish he had tried harder to remove the “academic-ese” from his book so that it could reach a larger audience.

To give you an example of what I mean, here is an example of his style:

Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political.  Plato makes a distinction between technical skill and rhetoric on the grounds that rhetoric “has no account to give of the real nature of things, and so cannot tell the cause of any of them.”  The craftsman’s habitual deference is not towards the New, but toward the objective standards of his craft.  (18)

Couldn’t he have gotten his ideas across in a more accessible style?

Despite my reservations about his academic style, I do appreciate what Crawford is doing in this book.

What are you reading?

Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.


  1. Crafting isn’t just for employment! If your child needs to go to college to get any kind of paycheck, then make sure s/he gets some shop, sewing, gardening or other craft skills somewhere along the way. This is about life not just jobs – it’s about what we do in our non-professional time, too – (And as a related aside – I have Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on my tbr list for this month – later on. It’s a reread.)

    But … what am I reading now? I’m finishing “Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art” by Carl Hoffman -(2014). This is non-fiction about Rockefeller’s disappearance and the subsequent investigations including that of the author. Read the whole subtitle – that’s what it’s about – lol – Pretty good if you enjoy this kind of thing – actually, I’m listening to this one.

    Also reading (Kindle) Arctic Summer, Damon Galgut’s latest (2014). This is different from his priors in that it’s historical fiction – bio variety – think The Master by Colm Toibin. Only Galgut has written about EM Forster – (Passage to India, Howard’s End, etc.). At first I wasn’t all that happy about the heavy emphasis on his sexuality (like The Master with Henry James) but that ligttened up and we got a fair amount of his personal life with his domineering mother. I know enough about Forster to know this is very, very close to a non-fiction biography (minus the dialogue of course – lol).

    1. Good point about crafting! We seem to be moving away as a society from basic skills like cooking, sewing, etc. The Hoffman book looks really interesting to me. I’ll have to check it out.

  2. I’m just starting “Half the Sky” by Kristof & Dunn, and am close to finishing “Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders” by Larry Millett. Both of which I know you’re familiar with… 🙂

  3. I think I’ll pass based on that snippet, but I totally agree with his ideas. I have seen first-hand (teaching at a small college) that for many students, trade or skills training would be more productive and rewarding than a four-year college education.

    1. I know what you mean about the students. For some students, the liberal arts college education is just torture, and they’d be good at hands-on type of work.

  4. Great blog. Trying to figure out how to leave comments–these blogs are complicated. I think I have a WordPress account from decades ago. I will figure it out. See you all soon. Maybe by next Monday, I will post what I am reading.

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