A groundbreaking new book from the bestselling author of Shop Class as Soulcraft
In his bestselling book Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford explored the ethical and practical importance of manual competence, as expressed through mastery of our physical environment. In his brilliant follow-up, The World Beyond Your Head, Crawford investigates the challenge of mastering one's own mind.
We often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind. Any defense against this, Crawford argues, requires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the self.
Crawford investigates the intense focus of ice hockey players and short-order chefs, the quasi-autistic behavior of gambling addicts, the familiar hassles of daily life, and the deep, slow craft of building pipe organs. He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology, and becomes more comprehensible when understood as the coming to fruition of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature.
The World Beyond Your Head makes sense of an astonishing array of common experience, from the frustrations of airport security to the rise of the hipster. With implications for the way we raise our children, the design of public spaces, and democracy itself, this is a book of urgent relevance to contemporary life.
Crawford (Shop Class as Soulcraft) is deeply interested in how one masters one's own mind, especially in a time of information overload and constant distraction provided by technology. In a manner similar to Malcolm Gladwell, this brilliant work looks at individuals from varied walks of life, including hockey players and short-order cooks, to focus on the theme of how important (and difficult) it is to truly pay attention in our noisy, busy world. Crawford's sources, ranging from the philosophy of Kant to testimony from gambling addicts, might seem too disparate to ever cohere, yet he synthesizes them with skill. The result will force readers to dig deeply into their own "metacognition" (thinking about thinking). Beyond individual experiences, the book traces Western thought from the Enlightenment to contemporary times, persuasively arguing that much of our thinking about individuality and cognition is, simply put, wrong. Crawford's arguments can be dense at times, but they are not meant to be digested in pull quotes. Readers will feel rewarded for spending the time with a text this rich in excellent research, argument, and prose.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Promising sophomore release from a thoughtful essayist who has better stuff in store
This is a pretty intellectual work that weaves together an eclectic, seemingly disparate set of ideas. The writer is a perceptive cultural critic, and I think he is making a tacit nod to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Total Quality Management, and, at the end of the book, the work of educational writer Mike Rose, whom the author actually cites and lists in the acknowledgements. Motorcycles, in fact, are a motif in this book, and you find out at the end of the book that the author is a mechanic himself.
The most ambitious part of the book is the reading of Immanuel Kant and, to a lesser extent, Enlightenment thinking overall. Though he is arguably the greatest philosopher of the modern era, Kant’s philosophy—or German idealism in general—does not have as much influence in the English speaking world as rationalism, empiricism, or a mechanistic picture of the world, that is, the philosophy ushered by our own great scientists and philosophers such as Newton, Bacon, Locke, Hume, and Jefferson, some of the very realists and rationalists whom Kant critiqued. I was not too sure about conflating idealism with cheap artificial idealizations found in mass media, such as advertising or entertainment media. To Crawford’s credit, though, historically speaking, it’s well documented that idealism can have unintended tragic consequences.
Another aspect of the book that needed more work is inconsistency in tone or voice. At some points the book gets very academic and formal, at other parts it’s jargonistic and technical (his discussion of motorcycles and pipe organs), and at other parts it’s informal and even obscene (“giving psychic blow jobs to Mercedes drivers”). Maybe Crawford is unabashedly postmodern, but that doesn’t fit with his ultimately values based argument, which extols quality and craftsmanship. Maybe he did not do this on purpose. I don’t know.
I give it four stars. I think it promises better work from this writer in the future. It’s his sophomore release, so I don’t think he’s got it down quite yet, but I look forward to what he has coming later. He’s a writer worth following.
Book is incomplete! I cannot rate it.
There is no Notes section. Very frustrating, as the book is very interesting, and it would be great to be able to explore the additional materials the author has been good enough to give the reader.