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Publisher Description

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.

March 31
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Customer Reviews

Sal Paisley ,

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.

Hawaii64 ,

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.

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