Issue 9 T.O.C. – Book Recommendation: “Shop Class as Soulcraft” – Nancy Hiller

This is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Nine. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

Please note that the subscription window which includes Issue Nine is open now through August 28th

Book Recommendation: Shop Class as Soulcraft – Nancy Hiller


Every once in a while, a book is written that, while not explicitly focused on woodworking or furniture, manages to perfectly encapsulate the core essence of why we (as woodworkers) do what we do. In her book recommendation for Issue Nine, author and cabinetmaker Nancy Hiller unwraps just such a book.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work “is an extensive exploration of the moral significance of material culture in which the stubborn otherness of material – the rusty bolt that shears off in defiance of your wrench, the board you cut an inch too short – consistently provides a reliable (if exasperating) corrective to the kind of self-importance it’s easy to feel in more abstract fields of endeavor,” she writes. In sharp contrast to virtually dabbling with data or shifting numbers from one column to the next, Matthew Crawford’s book offers a shining yet unsentimental anthem for work in the trades: physical, creative labor. He seeks to “elevate public perception of the trades in a culture that has long devalued them in favor of white-collar ‘knowledge work,’” through a careful look at labor theory and historical practices of degrading factory workers. The difference between a table built on an assembly line, where each worker only handles a single task in the process, and one built by one artisan from start to finish (including design aspects) “is not one of degree, but of kind,” Hiller writes. Crawford’s perspective as a philosopher and motorcycle mechanic offers a unique vantage point on physical labor, “full of insights into what makes the work of building, growing, and repair worthwhile.” 


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