The Hands Of Man

ISBN: 0143117467

In this book I would like to speak up for an ideal that is timeless but finds little accommodation today: manual competence, and the stance it entails towards the built, material world.

And so this philosophy book begins, using the backstory of an author who got tired of his job in a political think tank to become a motorcycle mechanic. From the title you can already guess the satisfied result. He goes on to explain the causes and effects of the decline in manual ability.

This book grows out of an attempt to understand the greater sense of agency and competence I have always felt doing manual work, compared to other jobs that were officially recognized as “knowledge work.”


Those who work in an office often feel that, despite the proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet, their job lacks objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level, and that as a result there is something arbitrary in the dispensing of credit and blame.


A washing machine, for example, surely exists to serve our needs, but in contending with one that is broken, you have to ask what it needs. At such a moment, technology is no longer a means by which our mastery of the world is extended, but an affront to our usual self-absorption.

The decline of work started in the early 20th century with the introduction of scientific management, where knowledge was concentrated in the hands of the managerial elite and then doled out in tiny parts to workers who barely had to think when completing tasks. Once you remove need for a worker’s judgement, you can pay him less and control him better.

The result has become a culture of workers who use a narrow spectrum of knowledge in their jobs. We’ve become generalists with no redeeming skills, and the more abstract our work, the more it must be judged subjectively by the emotions and whims of managers. We get less fulfillment from it as a result. The education system today does nothing but prepare students for a monotonous life of glorified clerkdom while wood shop classes of yesterday prepared the proles for Ford’s assembly line.

White-collar professions, too, are subject to routinization and degradation, proceeding by the same logic that hit manual fabrication a hundred years ago: the cognitive elements of the job are appropriated from professionals, instantiated in a system or process, and then handed back to a new class of workers—clerks—who replace the professionals.


The idea of opportunity costs presumes the fungibility of human experience: all our activities are equivalent or interchangeable once they are reduced to the abstract currency of clock time, and its wage correlate.


…self-estrangement… arises from a work pace that ruthlessly subordinates the intrinsic goods of the job to the extrinsic metric of profit.

The author also describes the overreach of corporations in our lives, where we must submit to the monolithic “corporate culture” whether we’re on duty or not. It’s not even a shock anymore if someone gets fired from their job for something they did in their personal lives or for something they wrote on the internet. In fact, job advice articles tell you specifically how to be an obedient peon that will not get turned down for a job due to having a life.

Shop Class as Soulcraft clearly shows how work affects life and vice versa, similar in flavor to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death. Perhaps you can call it a more readable version of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. It advocates for tradition, for fixing things, and for solving problems using our brains and hands instead of being mindless consumers. All I know is that after reading it, you’ll get the urge to make something. Recommended.

…once I had the master’s degree I felt like I belonged to a certain order of society, and was entitled to its forms. Despite the beautiful ties I wore, it turned out to be a more proletarian existence than I had known as a manual worker.

Read More: “Shop Class As Soulcraft” on Amazon

43 thoughts on “The Hands Of Man”

  1. Although I loathe the tone and “follow your bliss” BS that books of this nature inevitably project, honest work taken on during my divorce definitely saved me from beta suicide. Here I was, exec in a Fortune 500, corner office, almost dying of DVT’s in my legs, throwing my wife out before our 6 months of marriage because I discovered what BPD was. I was enraged, afraid, hopeless, and totally lost. It was in this state that I stumbled upon the Manosphere, and reached for a hacksaw and some angle iron to tinker with my keyboard stand. While tinkering for a couple of hours, I realized the next day that that evening was the first time without suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
    I started learning and doing basic carpentry and metalshop around my house, to keep my mind off of things. I began remodeling my kitchen, all while learning new things, buying new tools, and almost by accident, starting healing. Today, My divorce continues, the process now 4 times longer then my marriage was. The bitch is still getting alimony, but that’s fine – my SMV has grown, while she slides off of mid 30 muffin top cliff with no children.I’m dating a hottie MD who enjoys a firm hand and the chance to make breakfast for me in the morning. I am at the top of my game at work, which has become less of a definition of who I am, and more a part of what I do with the time that I have in this life.

    1. How many people do you know today who can even change a flat tire? Don’t give a rats ass about SMV and scoring with some used up skank that’s been tossed around by every swinging dick. I enjoy waking up everyday naturally and choosing what I’m going to do. Yesterday I was making $15 an hour shoveling dirt. Last week $20 an hour working on a car. Today I’m mowing a few lawns. I get to talk to every college chick walking their dog if I want to merely by being outside working. This mentality of today where men are afraid to get their pussified hands dirty is why they are where they’re at. Much more important to define themselves via how women view them status wise rather than how they view themselves through their own abilities. Better go get a manicure while you’re at it too.
      A few months ago I scored a 4 year old lawn mower that was set on the curb because the people who owned it didn’t know how to maintain it. They simply went and bought another while all it needed was a $30.00 coil and the carb cleaned. That’s the problem. It’s easier to dispose rather than learn to maintain what you have. But then again, it must be easier for them to put the effort into getting up going to work to earn money to buy a replacement rather than take the time to learn something that will save them from spending it. Makes no sense to me but I’m more than happy to take advantage of it.

      1. Hi Jim,
        Why, thanks so much for jumping to conclusions! Of course, by the tenor of your responses, I can tell that you are young, or at least, attempting to play a college age kid on the Internet. As someone in your early 20’s, it’s highly likely that you know everything. I’m glad the families in your neighborhood let you mow their lawns for your allowance, but out here in the real world, us grown ups have other things we need to spend our money on. Maybe when you get a little older and actually have one or two experiences in your own life, you might understand.
        I define who I am, boy. But that definition, by its very nature, must exist only within the context of experience and action within a society. A society is s web work of people, each responsible to, and responsible for, different people for different things. In actuality, most everyone I know knows how to change a tire, but then, many if my friends are engineers, scientists, and tradesmen.

  2. One problem I’ve certainly noticed, being a white-collar worker for most of my adult life, is that it takes great effort to walk a fine line between generalization and specialization. Specialization is what you’re paid for depending on how much management wants to pay you. Your skills might be valuable at the time you’re hired, but then you have to update those skills based on the whims of what the market wants. the older you get, the more difficult it is to keep up.
    Generalization, IMO, is what anyone with half a brain should be working towards, either consciously or unconsciously. In order to specialize competently, as in engineering, you have to know a little bit about several different fields (e.g., mechanics, physics, math, metallurgy, CAD) in order to be effective as an engineer. It also helps if you have some knowledge about non-scientific fields like history, politics, etc. because this rounds you out and makes you more effective. Anymore, schools don’t provide the rounding out, just the specialization in order to be a cog in a machine.
    Lastly, it’s been many years since I last made things by hand and had sense of accomplishment in making something tangible. With tangible things, you can always look back at it and feel it. You can’t do that with writing some of the time, unless you wrote something from deep down from inside and not because a client requested it.

  3. Considering the real unemployment figures, people are finding it easier to just say no. Really no reason to put an effort into working a real job when the crony system is all about manipulation and control. Especially when one is able to get on the system (or dropout) and still earn money using their skills and labor to work outside the norm and not have to worry about some idiot on a power trip in HR firing you over a post on the internet. Or that you want to take a day off.

    1. Uncle, you are THE shit. Wanted to say that for a long time. I doff my hat to you, you rude, hilarious son of a bitch.

  4. Worse is the feminization of once all-male workplaces, leading men to adopt passive-aggressive behavior merely to keep their jobs.
    The motorcycle/search-for-man’s-meaning theme was explored in a similar book by Robert Pirsig many years ago titled “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.
    For those too young to remember there was a TV show back in the day called “Then Came Bronson”, about a guy who drops out of the rat race and rides around on his bike. In the opening scen he pulls up next to a station wagon with a guy and family, who says to Bronson “Wish I were you.”

    1. Oops, sorry see that you already mentioned Pirsig’s book. I do read the posts before commenting, honest, I do.

  5. We need jobs for the mass of people whose skills are not required when technology causes efficiency savings in human labour.
    Do we make an economy that serves the people – I dont believe this would work as it is against the human nature of selfishness, inherent in most people.
    Or do we do what the prez is doing? Cut jobs to half-time so there are allegedly more jobs available.
    Make-work. Fake jobs (already here). That’s what public schooling is for. The future is a dog, a man and a switch. The man is to watch to switch only. The dog makes sure that the man never touches the switch.

  6. We should all cultivate some form of manual labor into our lives, even as a diversion. Truman’s secretary of state, Dean Acheson, used to build furniture in his spare time. Roman writers like Columella, Varro, and Cato believed that a bit of farm work was soothing to the soul. Even the emperor Diocletian abdicated to raise cabbages.

  7. Great post. I loved both of the other books you mentioned (Amusing Ourselves to Death and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), so I will take your recommendation on the Soulcraft book very much to heart.
    I also happen to be a lawyer (I call it being a “mouth-worker”), and am restoring a 1964 VW in my garage. It’s great fun, and the only frustrating part is not having enough time to devote to it.

  8. There is no better feeling in the world than waking up in the morning and not knowing what is going to happen within your business today. Everyday is different and there is no “copy x to the y part of the spreadsheet”. Failure is part of the game, its what makes your cock get all tingly after you just put it up failures butt.

  9. The reviews on amazon point to the book being worth reading, too. It sounds unique and thoughtful.
    I’m going to get this book for my boyfriend, who’s an engineer who equally loves tools and scientific principles underlying the operation of devices. That’s one job that can allow mindwork and handiwork, too, maybe a piece of both worlds. His desire- no, need- to fix his own car and computer is a difference between us; I can’t even fix a lightbulb or cook a decent meal. Though, I desire practical knowledge about other things to make myself highly independent; it’s just not relating to fixing machines- more related to lifestyle behaviours. Manipulating abstract things to solve a problem is so much more satisfying to me than manipulating things I can touch with my hands. I’m going to read this book, too. Maybe it’ll put my Masters work into perspective; why it’s motivation- and satisfaction-destroying to realize I’m doing something that has no practical application. … People who do academic research for a lifetime, so much of what they do is without apparent consequence, except maybe as creating a grain of rice to put on a scale tipping toward one hypothesis, once the community’s grains have been placed, too, that is, evidence has been accumulated. Maybe seeing the washing machine go from broken to working as a result of your effort, and your lone effort, really is more satisfying…

  10. I spent a long time in corporate hell before taking a job with the Fire Department.
    Male dominated field, little tolerance for political correctness, hands on job, teamwork, excitement, etc.
    I couldn’t be happier. It has all the brotherly elements of combat, except you’re not getting shot, and you’re lauded for your work.

    1. I wish I could join the fire dept. over here, the military guys have an unfair advantage. they get 10 bonus points on the test, and they only select applicants that score over 100

  11. Vocational schools and community colleges are where the real skills are taught. Also are much cheaper to attend.

  12. This is very true. I spent five years on a vessel, and the schools I was given did not prepare me for the fleet. I had to actually be taught when I got there, and the first year and a half was tough. A lot of actual study that should have been given at the schools. The instructors there were more content to let us go halfway through class so they could go waste their taxpayer paycheck on nothing instead of actually teach our service members. We should have been trained; not given those lazy pieces of crap. Don’t get me started on public schools.
    As I got out, I wanted to get a degree in engineering. A lot of calculus I am going through, science, and engineering classes. I have a useless two year AA in Gen Ed. Most of it does not even transfer to the degree I want. Sucks. If you can, choose your school wisely. I had no choice, military only get online business or gen ed transfer degrees.
    Recently, for one class, we completed a massive project that required a ton of welding, electrical, plumbing, design, metal work, and parts acquisition. We did really well. Also, aside from the magazine article being published on it, I cannot honestly say that I know how to completely do that myself now. I did perhaps a couple hours of welding. They say it requires close to 70 hours to be considered proficient for example. This showed me how dire we could be if we don’t start getting our kids real schooling.
    In our fast food/ women’s studies degree culture we demand everything be easy, tailored to help women (even if men die or get fired for it), and written on an 8th grade reading level so even the single mommas hellspawn can read it.
    At some point, this mental domination of our youth and culture is going to ruin us!
    On a positive note; I recently went to a place that has all the engineering and manufacturing equipment you could ever want for a fee of 50/month (student), and 100/month (regular price). Basically, it operates like a gym membership, and helps communities develop their youth and workers who want to make something of themselves. They even give classes for the equipments use, and on topics like calculus and electronics soldering. If you are of the inventing mind like myself, you should check to see if something like that is in your area. The materials come at cost or for a small fee above cost. Also, you get to use the equipment, like a gym member uses the gym’s benches and machines; you do that here as a engineer. It is awesome.
    Even though our current rash of women, and their evil alpha sponsors in government have failed to stop the ingenuity of the human male. I hope we continue this trend. Cars, oil and manufacturing of the past were to our grandfathers and great-grandfather’s generations to what 3D printers and computers will be t us going forward. What brought us to our current technological prowess is our work ethic and most importantly our men. What will bring us to the next level is 3D printers, and home made equipment if feminism and the welfare state don’t squash it for funding and girl power advancement first.
    We need to get most of our youth real skills. Not everyone is built for IT. Fewer can be real engineers. However, most can be the technicians that the engineers of any particular field lead. Lord knows we need more jobs; but the feminist obsession with the service industry is stupid. Without production, the youth will be left with nothing, and be right for crushing us.
    Great article.

  13. This entry goes to the root of Adam Smith’s criticism of where the division of labor eventually winds up: a hyper-specialized, monotonous regime wherein workers become, as you say, mindless peons, and which is why he advocated public education among other things (though as we’ve seen, that has often backfired and reinforced his fears, especially in these latter days).
    Quite a conundrum. How do we even possibly consider getting out of it?

  14. I think men should definitely be able to work with their hands whether it’s on a car, a sink, garden, dumbbells, painting, etc.
    But the future will be based around knowledge and using our hands as much just won’t be necessary. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just the evolution of humanity.
    The fundamental principle that I advocate is that as a man, there’s nothing we cannot do that any other man has not done. In others, try doing something yourself first before you hire someone else to do it. For example, messed up sink or plumbing, try fixing it yourself first.
    I remember once in college I lived with about 4 or 5 girls. There was a trouble with the washing machine and my friend Margaret said she was going to call a plumber. I said, “No, let me take a look.” I used my basic reasoning skills to determine that the problem was simple. A hose had become loose and unplugged. All I did was plug it back in.
    Lesson is, men shouldn’t be scared to get their hands dirty and try first. If you can’t solve the issue, then go ahead and hire someone.

  15. College degrees are an abstraction of knowledge and intellectual achievement. Grades are an extraction of learning. Metrics in the form of numbers, charts, stats and analysis are an abstraction of real work the people that produce things of value. I’d also add that parroted ideas and opinion of things heard and seen via the media are also an abstraction of the reality the information attempts to portray. Without “hands-on” experience in such things, it’s all fairly empty, valueless use of human potential.
    It’s a soul-less and far-removed business dealing with abstractions of reality rather than real things. It’s also a dangerous business — consider how the financial world has wreaked havoc in the real world by playing games with the abstractions of real goods and services through financial derivatives. Money is an abstraction of value of actual physical things. I could go on an on about how we as an educated society love to abstract things from reality to the realm of the intellectual so that intellectuals can rule over those things and the people who produce them.
    I admire and respect men who have a real understanding the of the world around them and how things work by actually doing something to produce something useful or valuable. I think a time is coming with all the abstractions will be exposed for being the empty vessels they are.
    I say pick up a hammer and say and build something. You might just find the reality of what you’ve created more satisfying the abstract concept of being wealthy, but know knowing how to fix a leaking faucet.

  16. It doesn’t even matter regarding if this piece is “right” or “wrong”. Thank god someone is bringing this topic to light and we can look at it with a new perspective and a fresh approach. Push forward, learn and grow into your path.

Comments are closed.