Matthew Crawford: The World Beyond Your Head – A Book Review

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The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford is an absolute stunner.

So much so that I felt it needed its own review space separate from that of my Monthly Bookshelves – a space to highlight the concepts & quotes that really made me think.

From the moment I opened the book, I found myself doing at least one of two things with each page flip – the first: jotting down words from the text I hadn’t seen before so that I could define & learn about them later (this ‘short’ list ended up being 30-words long!) and the second: picking up my jaw from the floor. The ways in which Crawford connects human interaction to the design-oriented world around us really raises the question of individuality – I found that the text had me constantly questioning my personal experiences with both my emotions & my connections with others.

The premise of the book is that humans live in a world built to distract them – our attention is being bought & abused at all times of the day. Because we can’t change this, we must look for ways to find silence (the worlds most underrated commodity) and engage deeply with others/experiences to form a sense of individuality. The unfortunate part is that social values have shifted – what defines a good person is no longer fully within our control (see quote 3 below). The once rather navigable path to individuality has been reconstructed, making the journey far more complicated and the success rate far lower. This new struggle has resulted in a mass movement of sad, or ‘depressed’, individuals.

Making reference to Organ Makers, Chefs, Gamblers, and the like, Crawford highlights the importance of disconnecting – finding true autonomy, as he calls it – in order to find happiness amongst the chaos. The ability to think deeply and lose ourselves in activity is what will determine whether or not we feel a sense of fulfillment in this lifetime – the book talks all about why this is and how you can find it for yourself.

Although dry at times (particularly because I was having to teach myself words that had yet to enter my vocabulary), the book did a great job of keeping my brain busy and gave me a HUGE amount of content to chew over. If you’re looking for a book that will make you rethink the way you live, reanalyze the world & space that surrounds you, and reconsider what truly matters in the grand scheme of things, The World Beyond Your Head should be the next on your list.


Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the book:

1. “Animals are guided by appetites that are fixed, and so are we, but we can also form a second-order desire, “a desire for a desire,” when we entertain some picture of the sort of person we would like to be — a person who is better not because she has more self-control, but because she is moved by worthier desires.” – pg.19

2. Every Regime has such blind spots and exaggerated valuations with regard to the range of human possibilities. They have a political character to them, shaping souls and forming the young in the image of the regime. Imagine a high achieving university student who understands that he is supposed to want to be an investment banker but is left cold by the picture of his future that comes into view when he imagines such a life. He would really rather be building houses, having gotten a taste of that life while working in construction one summer. But he finds it difficult to articulate what he finds valuable about this activity and to justify it as a choice of livelihood in the terms prevailing in the public discourse, or given the expectations of his social milieu. So he brackets as best he can these sanctioned intimations of what a good life for himself would look like, and with the help of a little medication they wither, like a limb that has been tied off to prevent an infection from spreading. – pg.156

3. Once upon a time, our problem was guilt: the feeling that you have made a mistake, with reference to something forbidden. This was felt as a stain on one’s character. Ehrenberg suggests the dichotomy of the forbidden and the allowed has been replaced with an axis of the possible and the impossible. The question that hovers over your character is no longer that of how good you are, but of how capable you are, where capacity is measured in something like kilowatt hours — the raw capacity to make things happen. With this shift comes a new pathology. The affliction of guilt has given way to weariness — the weariness with the vague and unending project of having to become one’s fullest self. We call this depression. – pg.165


If you want to hear some of my thoughts regarding the bigger ideas in the book, the quotes listed above, or the author, shoot me an email!

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