Friday, September 5, 2014

The Forgotten Arts and Crafts (John Seymour)

The Forgotten Arts and Crafts
John Seymour
Dorling Kindersley
Nonfiction, History
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: These days, most people in industrialized nations take running water, packaged foods, ready-made clothing, heat, disposable packaging, and more for granted. It's all just a turn of a faucet, a flip of a switch, or a quick jaunt to the store (or the internet) away, isn't it? Not so long ago, however, daily life relied on the skills of trained craftspeople and knowledgeable housewives, men and women who transformed raw materials into the necessities of civilized life. Many of these skill are endangered, some having gone entirely extinct, but the recent trend toward self-sufficient living is inspiring a revival. Author John Seymour draws upon his childhood, his travels to remote corners of the world, and his own curiosity about pre-industrial living to offer a glimpse into such lost and fading arts as barrel-making, blacksmithing, basket-weaving, thatching, and more.

REVIEW: This book is a little difficult to rate. On the one hand, it explores just what went into the daily existence of yesteryear, how many people and how much stored knowledge was required for even the smallest village to thrive. From building a house with local materials to holiday decorations, from labor-intensive works meant to last a lifetime to the nitty-gritty of everyday cleaning and personal sanitation, a broad and diverse range of topics are discussed. On the other hand, Seymour does little but glimpse at most of his subjects, often coloring his descriptions with heavy doses of nostalgia that alienate more modern readers. No, Mr. Seymour, I have no recollection of visiting the village smithy as a child, so your charming explanation hardly helps me decipher the process you're describing. The illustrations are little more helpful, often showing tools without explaining their use or cluttered workshop scenes that only confuse rather than enlighten. In discussing the lifestyles of our ancestors, the author's rose-colored glasses are so thick they're practically a blindfold; yes, there were (and are) many admirable things about simpler living, but there were also many drawbacks and limitations, and it's a little hypocritical to praise the centuries or millennia of innovations that led to, say, the spinning wheel and loom while universally condemning innovations beyond an arbitrary "back-in-my-day" cutoff point. Several of the articles also feel thin, barely mentioning or explaining a particular craft before dwindling to a close.
The Forgotten Arts and Crafts succeeds at showing just how complex village life was (and remains, in many parts of the world), offering a look at the many skills and talents that eventually paved the way for our modern world... many of which deserve to be preserved against a future that cannot support our current wasteful, short-sighted lifestyle. I was just hoping for a little more depth.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) - My Review
Letters of a Woman Homesteader (Elinore Pruitt Stewart) - My Review
Alone in the Wilderness - Amazon DVD Link

No comments:

Post a Comment