19 January 2011

Book Review: Shopcraft as Soulcraft

Mechanics don't usually write books. If they do write books, they don't usually reference Aristotle, Kant, MIT economists, 18th Century Banking sociologists, and Robert Pirsig.

Ok, maybe Robert Pirsig. But in his book Shopcraft as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford references all of the above. Don't let that scare you away - after all, he's a mechanic at heart - and he brings them down to earth. So why would a mechanic write a book? Because he sees something wrong with the world. He does a job which society and high school guidance counselors try to guide young minds away from. 
It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years in school, and then indefinitely at work.
Crawford's writing will make you laugh, and it will make you think. It will make you want to get up from your chair and go build something, or fix something. One of his greatest points is that the trades - plumbing, framing, electrical, vehicle maintenance - can't be outsourced. You can outsource software help to China. You can build the computer itself in China. But you can't pound a nail from China.

At the end of the day, the trades worker finds intrinsic satisfaction in his work: the pipes flow, the house is built, the lights turn on, the car runs. This is what I loved about framing houses with Barry: at the end of the day, I could look over my shoulder and see what I'd built. Or at the Clydesdale farm: I could see the hay - or manure - I'd stacked.

All Barry ever promised me was long hours and low wages. Little did I know that I would earn an appreciation for real work - work I'd be willing to do for even longer hours and lower wages.

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