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The Craftsman [Paperback]

Richard Sennett
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Feb 2009

Provocative and enlightening, Richard Sennett's The Craftsman is an exploration of craftsmanship - the desire to do a job well for its own sake - as a template for living.

Most of us have to work. But is work just a means to an end? In trying to make a living, have we lost touch with the idea of making things well?

Pure competition, Sennett shows, will never produce good work. Instead, the values of the craftsman, whether in a Stradivari violin workshop or a modern laboratory, can enrich our lives and change the way we anchor ourselves in the world around us.

The past lives of crafts and craftsmen show us ways of working - using tools, acquiring skills, thinking about materials - which provide rewarding alternative ways for people to utilise their talents. We need to recognize this if motivations are to be understood and lives made as fulfilling as possible.

'Lively, engaging and pertinent ... a lifetime's learning has gone into the writing of this book'
  Roger Scruton, Sunday Times

'An enchanting writer with important things to say'
  Fiona MacCarthy, Guardian

'Enthralling ... Sennett is keen to reconnect thinking with making, to revive the simple pleasure in the everyday object and the useful task. There is something here for all of us'
  Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times

'A masterpiece'
  Boyd Tonkin, Independent

Richard Sennett's previous books include The Fall of Public Man, The Corrosion of Character, Flesh and Stone and Respect. He was founder director of the New York Institute for the Humanities, and is now University Professor at New York University and Academic Governor and Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (5 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141022094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141022093
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Richard Sennett is a prime observer of society ... one of his great strengths, the thing that makes his narrative so gripping, is the sheer range of his thinking and his brilliance in relating the past to the present' - Fiona MacCarthy, The Guardian 'A lifetime's learning has gone into this book ... Sennett writes beautifully' - Roger Scruton, Sunday Times

About the Author

Richard Sennett's previous books include The Fall of Public Man, The Corrosion of Character, Flesh and Stone and Respect. He was founder director of the New York Institute for the Humanities, and is now University Professor at New York University and Academic Governor and Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. He has won the Amalfi and Ebert prizes for sociology and in 2006 was awarded the Hegel Prize by the City of Stuttgart.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
This book is very interesting but not at all what I was expecting - which was a more historical account of craftsmanship. It is in fact quite philosophical. Although interesting, it is let down badly by a lack of cohesive theory and disparate stated purposes which become confusing.

What makes it great is that it is full of fascinating details of all kinds of different crafts (cooking; violin making; goldsmiths; architects even "open" software designers). It looks at every aspect of craft from its history to what makes a good craftsman.

The book is divided into three parts (1) Craftsman - looking at the history of craft moving from community based (in the medieval guild system) to individual knowledge and achievement (eg. Stradivari and Michelangelo) (2) Craft - looking at what goes into crafting - the use of the hand, analysising how the moment of inspiration occurs, how the best craftsman work with obstacles rather than against them and (3) Craftsmanship - the obsession with quality and whether ability is natural or can be taught.

It wasn't what I expected as I thought it would be in its entirety about the history of the craftsman and its modern disappearance. Although there are really interesing and thought provoking parts of history woven in, it is really much more philosophical. It is very theoretical suggesting sweeping theories that don't really transcend across the book and on analysis seem a bit flawed and remote. It smacks of a desperate attempt to unify essays that are incapable of unification.

It is the author's desire to try and pull it all together that is actually the weakness here. It makes it very confusing and lacking a single message. This is due to the breadth of the subject.

Overall, it is well worth reading as it is interesting and will provide you with lots of thought provoking tales to discuss over a glass of wine. But you will be left wondering exactly what it was the author was aiming to do.
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96 of 103 people found the following review helpful
By jsa
I really wanted to like this book more than I did in the end. I had heard Sennett talking about it on Radio 4 ("Thinking Allowed" 6 February) and was fascinated. It is a topic which usually is only addressed in passing, but worthy of a serious treatment of its own. I started to read with enthusiasm, but eventually it became harder and harder work and I almost gave up.
It has to be said that the parts are fascinating, and Sennett the musician and even the cook are as much in evidence as Sennett the sociologist; substantial sections stand alone as engaging examples of original and stimulating reflection and insight. And one cannot deny the amazing range of Sennett's erudition, the disciplines over which he ranges, the forms of craft about which he writes. (Strangely, the discipline to which he pays least attention is the substantial body of psychological research on skill acquisition.) But the result is sprawling and disorientating; his attempts to summarise chapters and stages in the argument just draw attention to the problem of fitting them all together. Perhaps it would have made more sense to publish as a collection of essays without any attempt to impose an overall structure.
Although Sennett can hark back to Homer and Hesiod, and more recently to Ruskin and Morris, he is to the best of my knowledge effectively inventing the modern study of craft as a discipline. So he is not writing within a tradition; he does not have prior work with which to argue, and even the methodology of study is vague.
Incidentally, although I have nowhere near the range of scholarship that Sennett displays, there are places where he deals with writers with whom I am quite familiar, and I did not always recognise his treatment of their ideas.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Failed expectations 24 Nov 2011
By Tim
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My career has spanned from cabinetmaker, to designer, to design lecturer; so I had huge hopes for this book and read it over a long hot summer holiday. Unfortunately this book fails to deliver. It's a good example of an academic cherry picking through history for exemplars to support their pet theory.

I truly know about modern design and especially the interaction between computer aided design and craftsmanship (sorry, cant talk about viola playing) - and although the author waxes lyrical about CAD he's talking absolute bollocks when he concludes that computers result in a disconnect between designer and craftsman! - which (with other similar misleads) cause me to question the value of everything else in the book, fascinating though it may be.

Shame, could have been a great book if the Author had kept his agenda off the page.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars stimulating but ultimately disappointing 28 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book could have met a clear need: a work explaining clearly what craftsmen have to offer in a post-industrial age would have been welcome. Also,we could use a book explaining why so many of us rush to buy objects at "craft fairs" etc. even when they may be of lower quality than their industrial equivalents.
Sennett rightly stresses the (good) craftsman's commitment to quality and the involvement in craftsmanship of implicit knowledge (in industry, there can also be a commitment to quality, but only on the basis of explicit knowledge). But he says little about the expression of personality, flair or even a certain Weltanschauung through craftwork. (Sennett seems to assume that artists are not craftsmen but surely the two categories overlap considerably.) He includes an essay on the hand but is less clear on whether craftworks are necessarily handmade. (I believe not necessarily: poets and composers are craftsmen without needing to exercise any special manual dexterity.)
I agree with the other reviewers that (i)Sennett does not lay down a clear line of argument and gets bogged down in examples and byways, not all of which are strictly relevant; (ii) the book is shoddy: Penguin should be particularly ashamed of the paperback edition which contains all the typos of the hardback edition uncorrected and is produced meanly with tiny margins; so much for craftsmanship!
Again, like other reviewers I have reservations about Sennett's use of his sources. I'll give one example: his references to Adam Smith. He says (a) that the "Wealth of Nations" (1776) was published a generation after the "Encyclopédie"(1751-1772) [!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars this book is an example of clear and accessible writing ...
this book is an example of clear and accessible writing and extremely relevant in this time of internet saturation by the
Published 1 month ago by Theodore Matoff
5.0 out of 5 stars Time to reflect
An elegant and thoughtful book. If you are searching for meaning in the work you do or an understanding of craftsmanship in the modern world, this book provides many of the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by peter palmer
1.0 out of 5 stars A poorly written disappointment.
An unfortunate disappointment.

The book was poorly written with no clear argument.

Too many examples makes the text a tiring read. Read more
Published 12 months ago by AMY
5.0 out of 5 stars A really interesting book...
...and compulsory reading for anyone interested in the way the way that work practices have developed and the cultural meaning thereof. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Jane Bushby
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for makers
With his sociology background & well researched history he can help modern makers contextualise their practice & be proud of the skills they have.
Published 17 months ago by Christine
5.0 out of 5 stars A great philosophical intervention
This is a really great book. A transformative work that might prove, in time, to be hugely influential. It's also a very enjoyable, fascinating, engaging, personal read. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Robert O'Toole
3.0 out of 5 stars The Craftsman
On and on and on...Dullsville! Lists and lists of his repetitive thoughts in my opionion so I could not bother to finish it but mebbes if you are actually a craftsman then it is... Read more
Published on 31 Jan 2012 by broofm
5.0 out of 5 stars THE CRAFTSMAN
Everyone, should have a copy of Richard Sennett's The Craftsman..and read it slowly. In fact,one cannot, nor should read it any other way..and read it more than once. Read more
Published on 8 Jun 2011 by VASILIS
5.0 out of 5 stars man against robot, a problem not solved
Richard Sennett exposes almost exhaustively here what distinguishes an artist, a craftsmen and a modern worker from an automated production chain, and he explains how very few... Read more
Published on 6 Mar 2011 by Carlos Vazquez Quintana
1.0 out of 5 stars Craftsman
Bought the book after reading a review in The Guardian and thought it would be illumating. I should have known by the title that it would be tough going as the term craftsman only... Read more
Published on 11 July 2010 by nollie
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