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Now, like so many of the redundant specialists he met, he hankers to get back to the bench: "I spent 15 years of my life talking and writing about capitalism, and so I wanted to touch something rather more hands-on." The first fruit is The Craftsman (Allen Lane, £25), which champions the value of good work and – crucially – argues that nearly everyone can learn to improve the practice of their abilities: "the capacity to work well is shared fairly equally among human beings".
From the best way to write a chicken recipe (show, don't tell) to the uncanny consistency in the time it takes to perfect any sort of expertise, from basketball to fiction (10,000 hours), Sennett – as always – craftily dovetails theory with sidelights and insights from every sort of skill.
Sennett has taught there as professor of sociology for the past decade.
In London, this drolly observant insider-outsider relishes the distance that lends, if not enchantment, then amazement to the view of his adopted home. " he erupts, rolling his eyes heavenwards, when I mention to this shrewd analyst of covert class warfare the allure of Cameron's laid-back Etonian style. " Born into a Communist family, his mother and uncle (a Spanish Civil War veteran) both union organisers in Chicago, Sennett grew up in Cabrini Green: first a model housing scheme of the kind whose rise and fall he later chronicled, then an American byword for inner-city dereliction.
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From forsaken sink estates to Renaissance palazzi, recession-stricken factory floors to string-quartet rehearsal rooms, he has for almost 40 years brought humanity and wisdom to the places where people come together to toil and trade, to talk and play.If the promises and pitfalls of urban space form one pole of his research, the other comes from his immersion in the evolving workplace, as machine-shop and drawing-office yield to retail mall and computer lab.A succession of recent books have given a sweeping overview of the human cost of economic shakedowns.In the age of the buttoned-down manager, Sennett celebrates the mind, and the hand, of the rolled-sleeves artisan.But don't mistake his praise of the self-improving craftsman for the Ruskin-Morris school of small-scale, non-industrial handwork that has exerted such a pull over British imaginations – not to mention home-furnishing choices.
"That's how people get better." In a previous interview, Sennett described himself to me as "an old-fashioned humanist and, I suppose, an old-fashioned democratic socialist".