The author is well known in the UK as an historian, archaeologist and television presenter of series such as The Victorian Farm which recreated the agricultural methods and life of the 19th century. Many of us will be aware of the increased interest in crafts and making, ranging from knitting to 3D printing, but Alexander Langlands is delving far deeper and going much further back in time in this book.
Traditional crafts are about so much more than making things and he uses the Old English term ‘crӕft’ to capture the wider meaning of knowledge and skill required to produce something like a thatched roof or to spin yarn and then weave cloth from it.
Langlands writes about the Arts and Crafts movement which was a reaction against cheap, mass produced goods by designers and artists such as William Morris. He notes the irony that those who had previously produced quality goods in literal ‘cottage industries’ would not have been able to afford the wallpaper or fabrics produced by Morris.
The author mentions his own experience in thatching a roof using bracken. Langlands writes about his realisation that one needs to factor in the time and physical effort to gather materials and how the methods chosen – for instance, cutting versus pulling the plants – are also important for future supplies.
He is not looking back to some golden age of simpler manufacturing but rather looking at what we have lost through factory-style production which is the ability to think in a considered way about what we are making. Whether it is building a dry stone wall, keeping bees or weaving cloth there are many crucial decisions along the route to the finished object that require an appreciation and understanding of the particular crӕft.
By combining personal memoir, archaeological and historical details with cultural issues, Langlands has produced a fascinating book which succeeds in leaving the reader questioning what we have tragically lost. In becoming so disconnected from the world around us through our focus on endless consumption, we have lost sight of how dangerous this is in so many ways: resource depletion; pollution; and lost skills, to name just a few.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: December 2017