In his new book Craeft, the archaeologist and BBC presenter Alexander Langlands offers a fascinating and surprisingly relevant dive into a subject that might seem niche to many—the origins of traditional crafts in medieval Europe ... It’s vignette after charming vignette of ancient processes, described in exuberant detail as Langlands travels through Spain, France, England, Scotland, and Iceland. Readers get a richly atmospheric peek into 'craefts' like the thatching of roofs, the spinning of wool, and the tanning of hides ... In Craeft, Langlands calls for living and working with awareness of our environments, materials, and challenges in real time. We don’t have to quit our jobs and start keeping bees in order to do this.
Beyond the mastery of specialized skills, Langlands is talking about something more holistic: a way of looking at the world. In reconnecting with craeft, he begins to see not just the beauty of an object or a building or a landscape, but the deeper purpose for which each has been created ... Langlands, surprisingly unsentimental for someone who made his fame doing historical re-enactments, resists the pull of nostalgia. Yet he makes a persuasive case that the surrender of our lives to machines represents a regression ... At a time where our disconnection from the world around us is not just tragic but downright dangerous, recovering our status as Homo faber, the species that makes things, may be our salvation.
The importance of cræft is demonstrated by the devastating effects its absence can have: The modern tendency to favor mechanization over cræft, Langlands posits, has resulted in flooding, soil degradation and global warming. In a world with diminishing resources, it might be wise to tap into cræft to ensure a sustainable future. Langlands has written an excellent introduction to guide us.
Trying to create one is the prerogative of a person hampered by an extremely partial vision of a rural sublime. That vision is not inclusive of the people—namely women and the rural poor—for whom manufacturing used to be physical servitude. It’s also oblivious to the hundreds of migrant laborers who are the remaining workforce using their hands in British agriculture today. I’m scolding Langlands here, perhaps unfairly ... Perhaps we would be happier if we could choose to weave baskets all day. But this is not the structure of the world we live in, and it ignores the reality of manufacturing.
...a delightful, informative melding of memoir and history ... Farming, haying, weaving, basketry, and boat-making are some of the crafts Langlands describes in fascinating detail as he travels through time and place ... Humans are makers, the author argues persuasively in this illuminating book, in need of renewed connection to the intelligence and ingenuity of craft.
Interlacing each history with accounts of his own attempts to practice traditional crafts, Langlands reveals the intricate balancing acts required by craft processes while also reflecting broadly on human interactions with landscapes. Langlands makes a strong, if sometimes unnuanced, argument against the mindlessness of modern consumption, urging readers to prioritize long-term use over profitability and disposability. In the ingenuity of craft, he sees not dead tradition but rather a way forward for an uncertain, unstable world. Sustained by Langland’s clear yet lyrical prose, this book is sure to interest readers concerned with history, human know-how, and the future of this Earth.