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le 12 juillet 2009
Shop Class as Soul Craft is a very enjoyable book. It is a well researched, somewhat academic review of the relationship between people and their work and how people find value in work. The book isn't very long at about 200 pages, but is not a very quick read as some of the concepts are fairly involved. I would recommend to any young person starting out in the work force that they read the author's views on the transportablity of work. For people, like myself, nearing retirement age, it brought back pleasant memories of times when I felt that my work made a difference. I think his view of office work is a bit jaundiced, but none the less, he makes some very valid points, made more valid perhaps in the wake of Enron and other corporate deceptions.
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"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." -- 1 Corinthians 15:58

Imagine that you build sand castles for a living. It could be pretty frustrating. When the tide comes in, a wave will wash away all but the memory of your work. Or if the waves don't get you, a careless foot may. Alternatively, the wind will blow your castle down.

It's the nature of a very secular society to seek enormous satisfactions from work. After all, it's what we mostly do on Monday through Friday. Matthew Crawford describes his experiences and observations about how to gain pleasure and meaning from work. He does so from an unusual perspective. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago but prefers to repair old motorcycles.

After you go through the story of his working life, you'll be reminded of all those wonderful vignettes in Studs Terkel's book, Working. You don't have to be president of the United States to find work satisfying.

Mr. Crawford posits these kinds of qualities for making work meaningful:

1. You work on something you care about.
2. You come into contact with those whose lives will be affected by your work.
3. The nature of the tasks is inherently satisfying to you.
4. You get to solve difficult problems.
5. You develop expertise that makes the work more enjoyable and helpful.
6. You use creative thinking.
7. You are not bound by time, space, or quotas.

For much of the book, he describes in glowing terms how great motorcycle repair is for him . . . and some of the satisfactions of electrical work. He also takes Dilbert-like potshots at routine office work, particularly when it is done in an assembly-line-like fashion. From that platform, it would have been easy to describe many more kinds of work, describing what to seek out and what to avoid. But he held back from making such general points where they cried out to be made.

As a management consultant, I was fascinated to see that his view of management consulting was of something very theoretical and impractical. Having done this kind of work for over forty years, I would say management consulting work is often a great deal like motorcycle repair work . . . but without the skinned knuckles. The book would have been stronger if he had taken the time to do what Studs Terkel did and ask workers what they like and don't like about various occupations.

I do agree that exposure to physical work should emphasize appreciating the disciplines involved rather than just mastering some information, making an ornament for the home, or getting through a required course. It is a big mistake to downplay the various trades. Many of my happiest friends learned to be masters of various trades after finding little practical use for their liberal arts degrees.

To me, the biggest missed point related to the spirituality of work. Your job can be one of the ways that your worship the Lord and serve Him. Some pretty grubby work can feel great when you know that it's what the Lord wants you to be doing for Him: One of the most gratifying days of work in my life was digging latrines for an orphanage in Mexico where the children had no indoor plumbing.

Let me leave you with one word of caution: The book opens more slowly and less interestingly than it becomes. Stick with it for at least a hundred pages before deciding that you like or can't stand what's being described.
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le 11 février 2010
I bought this book for my partner and after describing it to a few friends and colleagues 3 people I know have also purchased it for loved ones. Inspiring, I might even add, life changing book.
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