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on 7 March 2008
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. And although he acknowledges assistance with proof-reading, there is a substantial number of errors. There are just eighteen pages of notes and no separate bibliography; given that no reader is likely to match Sennett's range of background reading, it would have been useful to trace more material back to its source.
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on 22 May 2009
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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on 28 June 2009
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) [!] and that Smith asserted that "machines would end the project of enlightenment"; but Smith says no such thing: he recognises that the repetitive work entailed by the division of labour (not necessarily involving machines) may dull people's minds but proposes a remedy for this (adult education). Smith argued - surely plausibly - that mechanisation increased productivity to society's general benefit, making inter alia education available to a wider range of people.
Moreover (b) Sennett ignores Smith's admiration for the intelligence of agricultural craftsmen: in agriculture division of labour may be compatible with the preservation of some crafts, e.g. animal husbandry. Then (c) Sennett says that in "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" Smith "asked his readers to enter into the misfortunes and limits of other human beings" but he did no such thing: he clearly asserts that "sympathy" is a part of human nature; it does not "instruct ethically" as Sennett says but is the meaning of ethics.
These examples raise doubts in my mind about Sennett's use of e.g. Plato or Kant and his references to the scientific revolution (which all seem to be based on secondary sources).
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on 22 September 2012
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.

What kind of book is it? I don't describe it as an exhaustive account of "craftwork", specific crafts now or historical. But it does contain a lot of interesting detail along such line, used for convincing effect. It is a philosophical book, deeply questioning our being in the world as physical beings making things and being made. It's not an entirely comprehensive account of philosophy's relationship with making (no discussion of Heidegger's Question Concerning Technology, no mention of the double meaning of Nietzsche's "philosophize with a hammer" and its double meaning, no mention of Deleuze and Guattari's "how to make yourself a body without organs" or their account of the handyman and the production of production). But that doesn't matter. The book works as a powerful intervention. Industrial fabrication of consumables, concepts and people has taken over. Philosophers in many cases have responded with vacuity (Sennett is a bit harsh on Arendt, but maybe its justified). Sennett brings us back down to earth and points out a whole area of human (and non-human) material existence that may well offer a different ethical route.

Dewey's (little read) Democracy and Education is a key starting point, although it doesn't become explicit until later on in the book. Sennett is in the pragmatist tradition. But he recognises the limitations of Dewey's account of experience (and its basis in material action). Sennett goes beyond Dewey, with a materialism that recognises the power of material and tools to instruct and inspire. This would link up well with the "vibrant materialism" explored by Jane Bennett in her recent book of Bergson, Deleuze, Guattari et al.

Would I recommend this? Yes, to anyone. It is a challenging read. But will provide plenty of material for you to work up into a new life and a new society.
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on 21 November 2008
Like the previous reviewer I heard Richard Sennett talk eloquently about his ideas and so I really wanted to like this book.

But part way through I found myself floundering. To me, the book began to feel slightly disjointed and difficult to follow and then I began to lose interest.

- great ideas and a beautiful cover.
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on 4 April 2009
Excellent book; well thought out and researched. There has been little data or intuitive insight about the constellation of factors that go into the making of a craftsman, regardless of the discipline. The author has drawn universal lessons by observing the process and outputs of craftsman in different domains of work and produced a fine and much needed synthesis. It is likely that a reader from an altogether different discipline will find useful lessons here.
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on 12 August 2013
An unfortunate disappointment.

The book was poorly written with no clear argument.

Too many examples makes the text a tiring read.

A good background of knowledge and research went in to the book. Despite this, the author uses too many popular ideas in his writing that appear to come from this air (or his a**).

Not recommended, to anyone.
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on 8 June 2011
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.

It is the most informative and important document of today's demise of "Craft & The Craftsman " The causes and carelessnesses!
I believe that there is "No Design without Skill"
I recommend this book to all who care, whether they are 'makers' or not.
Incidentally, the cover design tells it all.!!!
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on 6 February 2016
Every craftsman/woman should read it. I give it as a present to my craftsfolk friends.
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on 6 March 2011
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 people can be artists, but much can be craftsmen more or less talented -a place between the artist and the vulgar worker- and finally, how practically nobody likes to work in the biggest robotized factories. It's astonishing the cypher of 1,1 million people working for the British NHS and it seems a huge majority of these are against the new management theories that eradicate craftsmanship from the task of physicians and nurses.
An excellent book, as this happens with great stress in Spain, because here, theories of Winslow Taylor or Ford entered very badly, but this country ever had many good and even superb artists and craftsmen, nowadays with an economical crisis although there's 20% of our production in hidden or "black" economy while many specialized workers travel mainly to Germany and his big factories.
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