The Craftsman Paperback – 5 Feb 2009
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'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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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) [!Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Every craftsman/woman should read it. I give it as a present to my craftsfolk friends.Published 5 months ago by rogercun
Interesting read. Opened my mind up to aspects I didn't think about in making, memorising, materials etc it's worth trying to read.
packaged arrived on time and securely.
Fascinating! Deeply philosophical, while staying in touch with tangible reality...Published 15 months ago by Nikos
If you want a book that is thoroughly researched history of the crafts in the West then the 'The Craftsman' is the book for you. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Ian
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