I got this book basically because I wanted to learn something about how to tell a good piece of woodworking (furniture mostly) from a lousy piece of woodworking. But that's only touched on in a small fraction of the book, and, while I agree and sympathize with the author's views in many ways, mainly I found this book a boring read. In part it's because Pye's writing style is rather long-winded and archaic. He might have been more at home as an amateur philosopher in the 18th century, or soapbox orator in the 19th, than an essayist in the 20th. Just picking a couple of sentences at random: "Nor am I saying that free workmanship is better than regulated, nor that regulated workmanship is the ruin of our civilization. On the contrary, I say that on the contrast and tension between regulation and diversity depends half the art of workmanship." As for Pye's ideas, well, he goes to a lot of trouble to analyze and explore his concepts of "workmanship of risk" (simply put, workmanship where you can screw it really bad) versus "workmanship of certainty" (e.g. machine-punching), and "free" (open to variation) work, and the allied concept of diversity in the product, versus "regulated" (uniform, predictable--most machine production) work. Pye observations sound like this: "In our society at present the sensitivity of people to the quality of diversity in workmanship seems very uneven." "There is . . . a total incongruity and a sense of outrage about a piece of material with a highly polished surface and a raw, rough edge." "In the art of workmanship, then, we seek to diversify the scale of those formal elements which begin to be distinguishable at close and also--in season--to diversify the forms themselves by allowing slight improvisations, divagations and irregularities so that we are continually presented with fresh and unexpected incidents of form." "The traditional association between high regulation and durability, whether true aor false, has no force any longer. The highly regulated ball-point pen with which I am writing will be thrown away next week." "The extreme paucity of names for surface qualities has quite probably had the effect of prefenting any general understanding that they exist as a complete domain of aesthetic experience . . . standing independently of form and color."
Well, Pye puts some new names to things, and makes some fresh observations here and there. (There are also some interesting pictures, though too few I'd say in a book that after all is about craftsmanship.) Yet it's hard to see a lot of this stuff as really insightful, or meriting the kind of laborious, involved disquisition that Pye gives it. A page of his comments about about regulated work could be conveyed to anyone's intuition by a single Paul Strand photo of machinery. Also, many of his observations feel, ultimately, a bit like juggling of the names he has given things--but if you step back it's not all that earth-shaking an observation.
There's a part where Pye takes Ruskin to task for, in Pye's view, a number of inaccurate statements about art and craftsmanship. Pye may be correct, but his discussion on these points suffers from his style as usual (as well as an oddly peevish tone). It also doesn't benefit from comparison with Ruskin, since, when I read a bit of the Ruskin quoted by Pye here, I'm reminded of how I miss succinct, pithy writing as I ready Pye's own contributions. Ruskin: "But, accurately speaking, no good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a misunderstanding of the ends of art. . . . In all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty." Even if this is wrong in some respects (as Pye likes to explain at length), Ruskin here is such a refreshing change of pace. Better wrong and interesting than correct and dull. A few of the Ruskin quotes were the only things I marked in the whole book.
Well, maybe it's just me, but I found this book tedious and rather a disappointment.