Summary of Shop Class as Soulcraft

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  • Innovative
  • Inspiring


Matthew B. Crawford earned his PhD while working as an electrician and motorcycle mechanic. After receiving his degree, Crawford headed a prestigious think tank in Washington, DC. In only months, he became dissatisfied with the abstract nature of his work and the internal politics that seemed more important than any results. He left and opened a vintage motorcycle repair shop. Working with his hands on intractable mechanical beasts granted him insight into his own intellectual and metaphysical processes. He found working with his hands on complex mechanical problems often more intellectually satisfying than the rigorous intellectual work he earned his doctorate to perform. Crawford decided to investigate his own processes and America’s history of, and attitudes toward, skilled manual labor. Thus, he parses the meaning of labor in the Internet age and bemoans a society where repairing what you own has become a lost art. getAbstract recommends these thoughtful essays to those whose day job doesn’t satisfy their soul, who love motorcycles or who would rather be in a workshop than at a desk.

About the Author

Matthew B. Crawford, PhD, once headed a prestigious think tank in Washington, DC. He decided to quit, and today he works as a motorcycle mechanic.



Distanced from Your Own Life

If a society no longer values tools and their use, people wind up living at a distance from the “artifacts” that surround them. The old Sears Roebuck catalog, for example, routinely included blown-up diagrams of products and their parts on the assumption that folks would want to fix what they bought. When you can’t repair what you own, your relationship to that object becomes “passive and dependent.” Computers and modern cars, for example, require repair by experts who are more likely to discard and replace whole systems than to figure out which element is busted. Thus both owners and experts forsake intimate knowledge of the devices that shape their lives.

Useful Labor

A “craftsman” and a “tradesman” are different. The crafts expert lives an ideal, artistic existence, quietly working away on some arcane specialty that clients treasure. That fantasy seldom proves financially viable, however. The more likely reality rests with people who know a trade – such as carpentry or electrical work – who learned a complex set of skills and techniques that allow them, foremost, to be employed every day. Their labor, though often undervalued...

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    K. H. 9 years ago
    I enjoyed this book summary. I found it thought provoking and many of the points sadly true. This is normally a book I would have never touched but the summary allowed me to taste something new.
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      Erica Rauzin 9 years ago
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It's great to know that we could open that door for you - Erica Rauzin, Managing Editor, getAbstract