The Case For Working With Your Hands by Matthew Crawford

A book about the value of getting your hands dirty, written for an audience for whom calluses are alien.

Naively, as someone who finds office environments difficult, and who enjoys making things – sewing, painting, papier mâché etcetera – I thought this book would be a self-help guide which would talk me through all the ‘bad for us’ parts of the office.

Books and covers and all that. Turns out, it’s actually a philosophy book, which isn’t at all about offices – despite the title. I think therefore I am; I work therefore I have meaning. Or something like that.

The single chapter on ‘The Contradictions of the Cubicle’ doesn’t really talk about cubicles. It discusses the contrast between an employee’s idea of purpose and their manager and/or employer’s idea of purpose. Personally I don’t think having one boring office job which you didn’t want to be doing in the first place is a good enough reason for ruling all office work out for the entire human population, but hey.

Matthew Crawford’s strength is the stories: the screw-ups, the dreams, the disasters, the romance. Tales illustrating what it actually feels like to be a motorbike mechanic, what it feels like to bond with a machine (I’m visualising of Rossi kneeling by his bike pre-race) and why it’s such a difficult feeling to cultivate in modern society.

As a philosophy book it was enjoyable, but lacked daring. I wanted more provocation. It asks the same sort of questions I ask of myself, and this isn’t really enough. I want pushing more. It questioned the value of the exam orientated education system, but it didn’t really offer enough of an alternative. We can’t all be motorbike mechanics.

The style in which it’s written makes me feel that the average reader would buy it, but never finish it. Despite my university education, the vocabulary was testing and there were times when I wondered what the point was the author was getting at.

I give you this example :

“For the neo-Darwinian, the frolicking of the dolphin is assumed to have some survival value, either for the preservation of the individual, or the passing on of its genes. I suspect, if you were to ask the dolphin, he would say it is backwards: he lives in order to frolic, he doesn’t frolic in order to live.”

I suspect most dolphins, if asked, would frolic because frolicking is what dolphins do.

Have you ever wanted to have a more hands-on job?