Book review: The World Beyond Your Head

The World Beyond Your Head
By Michael B. Crawford
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374292980
Review copy provided by the publisher

Review by Ginger Mayerson

I mostly liked and agreed with about the first half of Matthew B. Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head (WBYH). We do live distracted lives in a distracting commerce driven world. I like part about jigs: how master craftpeople have optimal jigs for what they’re creating. But in this messed up world we live in, most people are not master craftpeople and the jig is something we work in. He quotes an old saying about assembly lines on page 34: “Cheap men need expensive jigs; expensive men only need to tools in their toolbox.” I suppose that applies to office workers, too, and there wasn’t much positive or constructive in this book for anyone but skilled craftspeople who never have to leave their workshops.

About distractions, yes, they’re there and they’re real. In my town electronic billboards are restricted because they’d be horribly distracting and dangerous beside freeways, so there is still some good sense even in LA County. We still don’t have cell phoning and texting while driving under control, but I rather suspect natural selection and technology will take care of that in a few generations; too bad about the collateral damage. In his New Yorker article, The Cost of Paying Attention goes off on airport distractions, such as losing a flash drive in a TSA shoes and belongs bin with ads in the bottom. Seems like Mr. Crawford needs a jig for that, like, having his flash drive on a neon green lanyard or something. I mean, that’s what I a lowly office worker do when I don’t want to loose a flash drive (or keys, or an ID card, etc.) because I am doing the best I can in the world I live in.

Anyway, the most interesting, but useless part of this useless book was about organ building, the non-electric musical kind of organ building. There aren’t many organ builder craftspeople for Mr. Crawford to hold up as examples of how the world should be because there’s such limited demand for their work. They’re like the Noh actors of instrument builders. They have become a clan business model where the knowledge, equipment, and customers are passed down from generation to generation of offspring and workers. Yes, I agree that in organ building there’s tradition, craft, skill, mastery, camaraderie, and beauty — too bad there isn’t much of that to go around in the rest of the world. Whatever good feelings I had about WBYH went out the window for me when Crawford pulled this elitist card from his sleeve.

I’m not going to review the book Professor Crawford didn’t write. He wrote a self-indulgent book that shakes a paper finger at the fast shiny hyped up world most of us have to live in. I guess that’s as much attention Crawford can give us peasants from his high perch, wherever that might be. As far as I’m concerned he can stay there if this is all the insight he has to offer from it.