Bookmarks Issue: 

An Inquiry into the Value of Work

A-Shop Class as SoulcraftMichael B. Crawford owns and operates a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia. He also has a Ph.D. in the history of political thought and is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

The Topic: Michael Crawford, who grew up in a commune in California, has always led something of a dual life. One part of him is in love with motorcycle engines and the type of people who repair them, while the other part is committed to the pursuit of knowledge. But according to the argument of Shop Class as Soulcraft, those two parts of the human experience ought not to be in conflict: physical work has a highly intellectual component requiring real knowledge and practice. Crawford first reports (and laments) how we've arrived at such a conflict in American life. He then draws alternately on his philosophical background and the daily experience of motorcycle work to argue for a new dedication to working with one's hands.
Penguin. 256 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594202230

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"It probably sounds predictable that Crawford advocates a dual life as the most satisfying, a mixture of intellectual accomplishment and more measurable hands-on accomplishment. His predictable conclusion, however, is arrived at so skillfully that nothing about the book seems tired." Steve Weinberg

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Shop Class as Soulcraft is a beautiful little book about human excellence and the way it is undervalued in contemporary America. ... He argues that there is something wrong with a global economy in which a Chinese worker sews together an Amish quilt with no direct connection with its final user, or understanding of its cultural meaning." Francis Fukuyama

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The newly fledged college graduate, for whom this could be a very important book, might find it less than an easy read. Persevere, though: there are serious nuggets of truth here. ... It could lead to a richer, more financially secure, and more fulfilling way of life." George Whisstock

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The bulk of Mr. Crawford's book is timely and provocative, even moving. ... But it's also full of awkward, barely sublimated crosscurrents. Most of the time I wish books were rowdier and weirder than they are. I wish Shop Class as Soulcraft was more at peace with itself." Dwight Garner

Critical Summary

We note that Publishers Weekly named Shop Class as Soulcraft one of the top ten books of 2009. Reviewers were clearly intrigued by Crawford's argument, but only a couple of them seemed fully persuaded. (The New York Times Book Review critic, for example, admitted to enjoying Crawford's manual work alongside his academic career.) But most critics, while praising the book's overall premise, seemed a little hesitant about fully embracing Shop Class as Soulcraft, perhaps because, as the New York Times reviewer observed, many of the author's personal preferences and quirks, such as Crawford's defense of dirty jokes, seem to impede his argument. However, it's hard not to be interested in a philosopher who, in a nation that privileges intellectual attainment, can also successfully replace a carburetor.