Shop Class as Soulcraft – a book to read


Every year I have the same new years resolution: Read 50 books. Most years I get pretty close. The time comes from watching almost no tv during the year. It is odd that I can tell you who won the World Series and Super bowl every year in the 1970s, but I can’t tell you who won, or even played, last year. The up side of the trade off is having read several hundred books in the last 20 years. I was just finishing 2014 book #1, Seth Rosenfeld’s ‘Subversives‘, when my neighbor Buzz dropped off a book with two simple commands: “You must read this, and you must give it back” He explained the second one by saying he intended to re-read it again because it is a very rich text.


The title jogged my memory, someone had mentioned this in a letter. In a break after dinner I sat down to read the introduction and ended up fascinated, reading the first 40 pages. I probably would have read the whole thing, but this is a very powerful essay, filled with contemplative thought, and it deserves a very engaged read.

I purposely select a number of books each year which I am inclined to not agree with the authors perspective. It is an exercise in absorbing the presented case without making up your mind about it until it is concluded, just as we are supposed to do on a jury. But in this case, I am going to jump the gun and tell you this is one of the best books I have read in 20 years.

Some writers captivate me quickly. I think is has to do with how the subject relates to periods in your life; Tim O’Brien writing ‘The things they carried,’  taking you on a guided tour of the ugliest acts and making you see the simple humanity that still lives there, spoke to things in my 20s. Junot Diaz laying bare personal mistakes too easy to relate to in ‘This is how you lose her’ brought up things from my 30s I had deceived myself into believing were forgotten.

Crawford’s  work catches me the same way, but this book is an essay on the personal value of being able to do something tangible and useful. It is not light reading, but neither is it a psychology textbook. This is something of a master atlas for a lot of the mental landscape I have been traveling in for the last 10 years.

If you would like to read an excerpt, here is a link to the original essay that was expanded into the book:


I wanted to find the letter I read about this book. I wanted to know how I almost missed having this on my reading list. I searched our mail, and tucked away in a ‘Mail Sack” set of notes was this letter from builder  Brian Manlove:

“William –Hope you had a good time at Brodhead & Oshkosh. Just finished a good book:  Shop Class as SoulCraft, by Matthew B. Crawford.  Pretty relevant for today’s world and the loss of craftsmanship and pride in “work of the hands.”Looking forward to more of your words of wisdom…Brian”

I am glad that Buzz drove over and dropped off a copy of SoulCraft, but this is a lesson to follow the endorsements of friends on books. I would be poorer in perspective without reading this book.



Above from our Oshkosh 2013 coverage, a photo of our neighbor Buzz, who loaned me his copy of the book: “One of the unusual experiences of Oshkosh is running into people from your local airports. On the left, Florida pilot Buzz Glade brought two USAF aviators to the Corvair cookout. It was the first time these men got a good look at grassroots homebuilding and they were impressed, which is no mean feat when you consider that these guys fly F-22 Raptors as a day job.”

6 Replies to “Shop Class as Soulcraft – a book to read”

  1. OK, I was able to find “Shop Class as Soulcraft” in the local digital library and now have it on my Nook. Have to finish a biography of J.A. Custer (interesting study of megalomania). and Colin Powell’s bio, “It Worked for Me”, and then it’s on the list!
    From Bertrand Russell: “The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history.”

  2. When William recommends a book – read it. “Shop Class as Soulcraft” will soon join “Trustee from the Toolroom” (Nevil Shute) and “Stick and Rudder” (Wolfgang Langewiesche) on my bookcase. Both were recommended to me by WW, and both were very good.

  3. I don’t read many books but because I have a motorcycle and like working in a shop I decided to buy a copy and download to my wife’s nook. I now know where William is coming from and it is way to deep for me 🙂
    Maybe I should have studied philosphy instead of engineering in school! Finished reading the book and found it quite interesting.

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