'The Case for Working With Your Hands…' by Matthew Crawford

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If you’re happy to mix your classic motorcycling with a little personal philosophy, then this book, subtitled ‘Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good’, could be just the job…

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I was looking out for a book to read on holiday so it was fortunate that I caught a program on Radio 4 featuring a philosopher who was working as an old motorcycle mechanic in his own shop. He had loads interesting ideas so I decided his book would fit the bill.

I enjoyed it so much and it featured old bikes heavily throughout. It also features how the world of work has changed in the last hundred years, which is something we can all relate to, so it seemed a good book to for other RealClassic readers.

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The book is full of interesting anecdotes like the following; when Ford first started out in the early 1900s he needed to hire 963 men to work on his lines for every 100 required as so few men would stick it out. In the end Ford had to double the wages before his employees were anxious to keep their jobs. This turned out to be very cost effective as in the end he was then able treble the speed of the conveyor lines.

The author then moves on to explain how hire-purchase was used to change the way we looked at work, also how being master of your own stuff can enslave, as well as the concept of the spirited man.

There are so great quotes slipped in throughout the book here are just a few:

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‘Old bikes do not flatter you, they educate you.’

‘Motorcycle riders are optimists as no pessimist would ride a motorcycle.’

‘Fixing old bikes and getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration.’

The author discusses whether you are less free performing your own maintenance on an old bike than, say, somebody who rides a modern machine that requires nothing from the owner but to bring it in for a service from time to time. He talks about difference between the iPod and a musical instrument, and then he tries to prove an old bike is closer to a musical instrument the older it is.

There is a nice set of pencil drawings which appear unexpectedly near the middle of the book and strange bits of maintenance advice — like when you should spray your bike engine with athlete’s foot power, or dilemmas like why a simple oil seal could create many moral conflicts. Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 score is used as an example to how our hobby can and should be.

Old Bikes on :

Matthew Crawford also discusses the management team-building technique of asking six to ten people to lower a light dowel to the floor after it’s been placed horizontally on their out-stretched fingers. Contrary to the efforts of the group, the dowel goes up instead of down. In the end the group is forced to kneel: it’s a trick but not one the group find out about until after they had been belittled by the instructor.

We are never far from motorcycles and motorcycle quotes throughout the book, and I feel the author really believes this next one: ‘People who ride motorcycles have gotten something right.’ It’s a bit general for me, but who knows? The last chapter is on self reliance and it’s my personal favourite.

This book is no ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, however that is a good thing from my point of view as I never got past first few chapters of that book.

RC Reviewer: Stephen Benson


‘The Case for Working With Your Hands…’ by Matthew Crawford is published in hardback by Viking, ISBN 978-0670918744. RRP £16.99

Available from Amazon, normally at less than the RRP.



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