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Cræft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts

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Faced with an endless supply of mass-manufactured products, we find ourselves nostalgic for goods bearing the mark of authenticity—hand-made tools, local brews, and other objects produced by human hands. Archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands reaches as far back as the Neolithic period to recover our lost sense of craft, combining deep history with detail Faced with an endless supply of mass-manufactured products, we find ourselves nostalgic for goods bearing the mark of authenticity—hand-made tools, local brews, and other objects produced by human hands. Archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands reaches as far back as the Neolithic period to recover our lost sense of craft, combining deep history with detailed scientific analyses and his own experiences making traditional crafts. Craft brims with vivid storytelling, rich descriptions of natural landscape, and delightful surprises that will convince us to introduce more craft into our lives.


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Faced with an endless supply of mass-manufactured products, we find ourselves nostalgic for goods bearing the mark of authenticity—hand-made tools, local brews, and other objects produced by human hands. Archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands reaches as far back as the Neolithic period to recover our lost sense of craft, combining deep history with detail Faced with an endless supply of mass-manufactured products, we find ourselves nostalgic for goods bearing the mark of authenticity—hand-made tools, local brews, and other objects produced by human hands. Archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands reaches as far back as the Neolithic period to recover our lost sense of craft, combining deep history with detailed scientific analyses and his own experiences making traditional crafts. Craft brims with vivid storytelling, rich descriptions of natural landscape, and delightful surprises that will convince us to introduce more craft into our lives.

30 review for Cræft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts

  1. 5 out of 5

    Aria

    ---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ---- Although I didn't finish it (I did have a look through the last half that I just didn't complete), I don't feel there is much to complain about here. The author discusses the history of craft, the changing meanings of the word and ideas of what qualifies as craft, and of course his history and experiences actually trying to do things the way they were done before our recent modern era. My only issue came early on, before the r ---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ---- Although I didn't finish it (I did have a look through the last half that I just didn't complete), I don't feel there is much to complain about here. The author discusses the history of craft, the changing meanings of the word and ideas of what qualifies as craft, and of course his history and experiences actually trying to do things the way they were done before our recent modern era. My only issue came early on, before the real book even starts, when the author makes complaint against what he sees as the unnecessary mechanization of things. Well, sure some things seem ridiculous to mechanize, but many things seemingly ridiculous serve to benefit certain populations to which the author obviously does not belong. His example of absurdity is a powered pepper mill, which he discusses in a manner that seems to conclude it to be that the height of laziness surely comes in the form of those who would buy such a thing. The loads of people suffering from arthritis, carpal tunnel, muscle-wasting diseases, deformities, nerve damage, strokes, and any other variety of things that might make the seemingly simple task of turning a pepper mill an impossibility, do not seem to have ever crossed his mind. Cookery and foodstuffs be damned, these folks can just go without such an option. So yeah, that really got under my skin in a serious way and early on I thought this guy, for all his experiences, has an under-developed idea of how mechanized items can open of worlds of possibilities formerly closed to people other than himself. That doesn't negate his point that the hassle of many modern so-called conveniences can be seen to negate their benefits. It's just that he seems to miss by miles the idea that whether an item is seem to be of more benefit than what option(s) may have been available before the introduction of said item into the world is indeed entirely dependent upon one's own perspective and needs. I think this book would be a fair fit for anyone genuinely interested in this type of history, and would probably be a good perusal for those attempting certain lifestyles, more or less removed from current tech.-driven lifestyles. His experiences w/ the learning curve of some techniques might indeed be beneficial for those attempting to adopt such practices.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Koen Crolla

    Starts very questionably and doesn't get better from there. In the introduction, Langlands makes much of the Old English word cræft and how its supposed broader meaning exemplifies an entire world-view now lost—in fact, cræft maps to modern English craft almost perfectly, and the only meaning it had that was later lost is the one it shares with its cognates in other Germanic languages (strength/force), which is not relevant to Langlands' interpretation of the word. This willingness to start from Starts very questionably and doesn't get better from there. In the introduction, Langlands makes much of the Old English word cræft and how its supposed broader meaning exemplifies an entire world-view now lost—in fact, cræft maps to modern English craft almost perfectly, and the only meaning it had that was later lost is the one it shares with its cognates in other Germanic languages (strength/force), which is not relevant to Langlands' interpretation of the word. This willingness to start from bullshit and just run with it continues in most other aspects of the book. Here's the fundamental issue: Langlands ultimate problem is with capitalism, but he doesn't realise this, so he constructs an aesthetic—and it is just an aesthetic—that's only accidentally coherent, and merely romanticises what he believes traditional practice to be.† And I do mean ``believes''. It would be unfair to say he hasn't done his research, and he does put actual effort in—a lot of the chapters are about his own experience in replicating a craft, often in his capacity as a TV archaeologist. But for every craft that's non-trivial to pick up—that is, almost all of them—he tends to lose sight of what was actually historical and what were just shortcuts he took or genuine gaps in his ability. In the end, Cræft fails as both a vessel of information and as a manifesto, which is a shame—the title was promising. ---------------- † This is probably best exemplified in his defence of the skep, an awful kind of beehive that requires more materials and effort to make and more effort and many more dead bees to harvest than other hives, and are impossible to inspect—which is also why they're banned in a lot of places. Literally the only thing it has going over later (or earlier) hives is that it's what beehives look like in our cultural vision of Merrie Olde England.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    3.5 stars. I was on the fence about rounding up or down. First of all, I much enjoyed this book. Just ask my poor husband, who had to suffer through many descriptions and passages from it! I loved learning about the different crafts presented in it, and am still mulling over various parts of it a week after finishing. I thoroughly agree that we lose something vital when our lives are divorced from all but recreational making, and that making things from and with the world around us is part of wha 3.5 stars. I was on the fence about rounding up or down. First of all, I much enjoyed this book. Just ask my poor husband, who had to suffer through many descriptions and passages from it! I loved learning about the different crafts presented in it, and am still mulling over various parts of it a week after finishing. I thoroughly agree that we lose something vital when our lives are divorced from all but recreational making, and that making things from and with the world around us is part of what makes us human. But I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the presumptions in this book. Other reviewers have pointed out the unintentional ableism; I also found the anti-Christian bias silly. (Christianity described as "spreading its tentacles," the sarcastic acknowledgment that not ALL conversions were imposed from above, etc. It got annoying.) I've also done quite a bit of reading about beekeeping lately and found that chapter a bit presumptuous as well ... all of which makes me think he's a bit prone to jumping to enthusiastic conclusions that end up being problematic. An unfortunate imperfection in a book I otherwise liked.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jordan J. Andlovec

    There were things I loved about this book, and things that bored me to death about it. The overall theme, a philosophy of objects in their reality and the understanding that brings out their true we essence was eye-opening, and some of the chapters on individual crafts were fascinating. But there were some chapters (like the one on ditch digging) that were so mind-numbingly boring I nearly fell asleep. I hope in the second edition they commission the illustrator to add some visuals to the descri There were things I loved about this book, and things that bored me to death about it. The overall theme, a philosophy of objects in their reality and the understanding that brings out their true we essence was eye-opening, and some of the chapters on individual crafts were fascinating. But there were some chapters (like the one on ditch digging) that were so mind-numbingly boring I nearly fell asleep. I hope in the second edition they commission the illustrator to add some visuals to the descriptive sections as you tend to get lost in the weeds there. Overall this was a super interesting concept, just needs some fine-tuning.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vintage274

    A well-written academic text is a real joy. Langlands, an archaeologist, explores a variety of almost lost or lost ancient crafts in this absorbing text from roof thatching to weaving to wood coppicing, he shares details of both how's and why's, bringing background information and historical pinning as well as his own experiences in reproducing these crafts. I admit to being a history nerd and enjoyed this book in huge gulps over two days. highly recommend. I was provided a galley copy of this te A well-written academic text is a real joy. Langlands, an archaeologist, explores a variety of almost lost or lost ancient crafts in this absorbing text from roof thatching to weaving to wood coppicing, he shares details of both how's and why's, bringing background information and historical pinning as well as his own experiences in reproducing these crafts. I admit to being a history nerd and enjoyed this book in huge gulps over two days. highly recommend. I was provided a galley copy of this text in return for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    Honest, I am not sure what this book is about. It supposed to be about crafts, as in the various traditional skills that were once vital to our survival. It goes though farming, tanning leather and other crafts. To me it came across as pretentious and elitist. Example: early in the book he was ranting against electric pepper mills as a step down in craft, but I thought they would be wonderful for people with arthritis, tremors, etc. This pretentious feeling was though out the book. Maybe its bec Honest, I am not sure what this book is about. It supposed to be about crafts, as in the various traditional skills that were once vital to our survival. It goes though farming, tanning leather and other crafts. To me it came across as pretentious and elitist. Example: early in the book he was ranting against electric pepper mills as a step down in craft, but I thought they would be wonderful for people with arthritis, tremors, etc. This pretentious feeling was though out the book. Maybe its because I am not an anthropologist or an expirmental archaeolgist.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence

    I love this book. And if you are interested in what I call "the things that stay the same," I think you will love it, too. Mr. Langlands introduces the reader to all the crafts that make up the foundations of our culture and civilization. These include skills like whipping (tying things together, like an axe blade to a handle), wattle making, basketry, thatching, weaving, pottery, breaking ground by hand, and so on. He writes not only about how the craft is done, but also about the history of the I love this book. And if you are interested in what I call "the things that stay the same," I think you will love it, too. Mr. Langlands introduces the reader to all the crafts that make up the foundations of our culture and civilization. These include skills like whipping (tying things together, like an axe blade to a handle), wattle making, basketry, thatching, weaving, pottery, breaking ground by hand, and so on. He writes not only about how the craft is done, but also about the history of the craft as far back as he can go from his studies as a professional archaeologist and general researcher and from putting his own hand to craeft. But even more interestingly he writes about the genius that underlies the crafts from sourcing (according to the landscape, weather, and materials at hand) to production. He therefore argues for craft as part of a mindset or approach to the world, as a way of being or even contemplation - as in the focused deliberation on which of two stones to put in what place in a dry-stone wall. It is very stunning and beautiful how Mr. Langlands begins his book with haymaking, something that we might regard as mundane, but ends it with something as glorious as the construction of a Viking long boat which, like no other boat, seems to be a kind of basket without a frame - just as boats are described in Beowulf! I try not to lose sight of just how intelligent we humans are. It is hard in this day and age. But a book like Mr. L's reminds us how our hands and brains and memories created the basics that we have and that we were -- are -- smart enough to survive and thrive. Some might find the book to throw a pessimistic light over what the world is today, loaded down as it is with plastics, sugar, electronics, freighters, trucks, and fossil fuels. But I found the book optimistic in that it celebrates who we are without turning a blind eye to how we have, in a way, degraded since the Industrial Revolution. Bravo, Mr. L.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vannessa Anderson

    Craft was a convincing read on why we should never give up making things with our hands. Author Langlands demonstrated how our dependence on machines interferes with our humanity. Craft was a worthy read. Author Langlands takes us down memory lane when we made things by hand and how it encouraged community.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is an interesting book by an experimental archeologist who worked with the BBC to show how various farms actually operated (with historical accuracy) - among many other projects the author appears to have participated in. His interest is in showing an astonishing range of traditional crafts, mostly associated around small British farming establishments. What is the deal with thatched roofs? How do hedges work? What difference does it make how one builds a wall to separate your property from This is an interesting book by an experimental archeologist who worked with the BBC to show how various farms actually operated (with historical accuracy) - among many other projects the author appears to have participated in. His interest is in showing an astonishing range of traditional crafts, mostly associated around small British farming establishments. What is the deal with thatched roofs? How do hedges work? What difference does it make how one builds a wall to separate your property from somebody else’s property? Who figured out how weaving works? Or spinning? How do haystacks work? What about beehives? This book is partly about explaining a number of crafts that have largely been rendered obsolete by industrialization. It is also a series of stories about life in England outside of the large metropolitan areas in places that are literally dripping with history. This is not the same as going to a living history museum and talking to actors/volunteers dressed up as people from specific times and eras. If that was it, the book would be entertaining but not that remarkable. What is special about the book is the focus and Mr. Langlands places on craft (craeft) as embedded and localized knowledge that reveals how people prior to industrialization learned to solve problems and live expansive lives in the context of their local environments and communities. This adaptability is a noteworthy human skill but one that may have been weakened or lost as a result of industrialization and waves of innovation that has obviated the need for people to adapt and adjust to their local environments. The claim is that while their is much to be said for the standard of living since the onset of industrialization, it is arguable that people and society are less adapted and less in tune with their immediate environments as a result. ...and this is not a good thing. This suggests a parallel to Richard Sennett’s recent work on the craftsman as a model of sorts for looking at social action, although Sennett’s book is more theoretical that Langlands’s book. An immediate application of these ideas outside of traditional crafts is in working with other people. While there is a huge literature on the “best” ways to manage or supervise, in truth, the best way to proceed is most likely customized to fit the particular situations, social contexts, and human capabilities involved - it is like a craft in skillfully and wisely adapting to circumstances. I don’t know if I buy the whole story here. Small is not necessarily beautiful and the life expectancy in England and Western Europe in the heyday of traditional crafts was around 40. Ah the good old days!! We seem to be moving back to possibilities for flexible customization in some areas with the help of digital technologies and 3D manufacturing, but the account in this book helps me to appreciate the intentions behind arts and crafts movements more than I have previously. There is something deeper here. Langlands’ argument about problem solving habits and skills is important. The suspicion is that the world of industrialization and standardized commodities gets taken for granted and obscures the range of possibilities in how people around the world and through history have adapted. This story also puts popular accounts of innovations and novelty in some context about what innovations have actually contributed to the betterment of human life. One example in this book is where Langlands discusses the critical role of leather in human history (chapter 9). Much of this is not new (by definition) but I guarantee that Langlands’ story will get you thinking, even if you have read a lot of history. And best of all, the next time I visit the South Downs, I will be ready to go on some new hikes. The style of the book is not always engaging and some of the accounts are a bit too detailed, but overall, this book should get people to look around at what they think they know about. It is a worthwhile read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ken-ichi

    Alas, not what I wanted, which, I think, was something more along the lines of an exploration of what tacit knowledge provides beyond just the practice, something that interests Langlands... just not as much as the practice itself. The author presents himself as a nerd, i.e. a slightly-overenthusiastic but trustworthy guide, but the pejorative sense seems more apt, as in someone whose enthusiasm is admirable but whose inability to predict his audience's lack thereof is not. Do I need to understa Alas, not what I wanted, which, I think, was something more along the lines of an exploration of what tacit knowledge provides beyond just the practice, something that interests Langlands... just not as much as the practice itself. The author presents himself as a nerd, i.e. a slightly-overenthusiastic but trustworthy guide, but the pejorative sense seems more apt, as in someone whose enthusiasm is admirable but whose inability to predict his audience's lack thereof is not. Do I need to understand the intricacies of how to build a wattle? Do I need to know the special, localized name for every single material that goes into a wattle? Would it not suffice to simply explain what a wattle is and then get on to the more generally interesting subject of how wattle-building fits into the landscape, how the materials at hand limit the potential of the technology, how making wattles teaches you something about how and why to live? Langlands gets to these subjects, but not after *actually building a wattle* and forcing you to build it with him, which, surprise, is kind of boring, to me, someone who actually didn't just close the book when it became clear he'd devoted an entire chapter to wattles. I'm probably being too harsh here. I *did* finish the book, after all, even the chapter on wattles, and I am interested, even in (some of) the manual intricacies. I like learning how landscape shapes practice and culture, and how they in turn shape the land. I think with a bit less of the obsessive detail, a bit more synthesis, and a lot more in the way of illustrations to help visualize some of the things he was describing, this could have been pretty great. I can't exactly recommend it for any but the most committed dorks. Now to watch the author's *multi-season* TV show about historical British faming. Multiple. Seasons. Addendum After Watching All, Yes All, of Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm, and Edwardian Farm I now feel bad slagging this book after loving, *loving* these TV series, which are adorably nerdy and not annoyingly nerdy, and certainly suggest Langlands is more of the former than the latter. They have the definite advantage of allowing you to see the need for these various crafts, and sometimes to simply understand what the heck something like a wattle is and how it works, and they certainly don't get bogged down in jargon (though they do have some absurd reality tv tropes that drag things down a bit). Almost makes me want to re-read the book. Almost. Will probably just continue onto watching Wartime Farm.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    Man’s search for meaning is, in these days of alienation and anomie, always a topic that can generate interest. Meaning at its most concrete is tied to the things of Earth, to the nature of man and the world of nature. Thus, if man becomes wholly dissociated from Earth, bad things result. This, in a nutshell, is the message of not a few modern prophets, and among them is Alexander Langlands, offering a specifically British variation on the theme. The author is an archaeologist and historian of me Man’s search for meaning is, in these days of alienation and anomie, always a topic that can generate interest. Meaning at its most concrete is tied to the things of Earth, to the nature of man and the world of nature. Thus, if man becomes wholly dissociated from Earth, bad things result. This, in a nutshell, is the message of not a few modern prophets, and among them is Alexander Langlands, offering a specifically British variation on the theme. The author is an archaeologist and historian of medieval times, resident in Wales, and frequent participant in British television recreations of earlier times (a popular genre there), like "Victorian Farm." By avocation he is interested in traditional things and ways of doing things, and of the types of work he discusses in this book, he has actively participated in most. This gives his book an experiential feel that is superior to many books that offer only second-hand description. It also makes his comments on meaning seem organic, rather than didactic or forced. Langlands begins by defining his title word, craeft, an Anglo-Saxon word. It is not, or not precisely, what we mean by the modern word “craft.” That modern word has been abused, pushed and pulled like so much taffy, especially to sell consumer goods that nobody really thinks have anything to do with craft, that it has lost much of its meaning. Langlands more or less defines “craeft” as a synonym for “true craft.” He works backward, observing that true craft must have to do with physical work involving natural materials. Its opposite is computer work, a “pixelated abridgment of reality” that lacks any physicality. Craft necessarily involves actual, direct engagement with the material. To extend the definition further, Langlands examines the use of “craeft” by Alfred the Great (a prolific writer) and by other Anglo-Saxons, where it (usually) means “power or skill in the context of knowledge, ability, and a kind of learning,” that includes physical skill, but also mental and spiritual virtue or excellence. After reviewing other uses of the word, Langlands offers a modern definition of craeft: “a wisdom that furnishes the practitioner with a certain power,” that retrieves “an awareness and an understanding of how materials worked” and how the human form relates to them, a “co-ordination that furnishes us with a meaningful understanding of the materiality of our world.” Through craeft, we take pleasure in using our skill, not substituting machines to do the work, to create things that are specifically useful to us, rather than buying mass produced, disposable, or unnecessary things (such as Langlands’s bête noire, the battery-powered pepper mill). (Nor does true craft include what is colloquially termed “crafting,” the manufacture of decorative or superfluous items as a hobby, such as scrapbooking.) It is not just the creation that is true craft, though. “We’ve conflated craft with skill and design with art when . . . it should be about more than just making. It is the power, the force, the knowledge and the wisdom behind making—the craeft behind it.” Craeft depends in large part on tacit knowledge, of the type discussed by Matthew Crawford in "Shop Class as Soulcraft" (of which book more below). Thus, craeft is difficult or impossible to reduce to mere instruction. Craeft can, however, use machines in its execution; it is the involvement of the master, not necessarily his specific tools, that matter, although the use of too much machine destroys craeft. After all, craeft such as hedging uses simple machines such as sprung shears, but when the hedger uses electric finger-bar shears, it is no longer craeft. Having defined his terms, while offering interesting asides, the remainder of the book is an exploration of specific modern examples of craeft, most of them actually executed by the author, interspersed with ruminations on each craft, on the landscape that created and directs the craft, and on Britain itself. First up is a craft that is, in a small way, still somewhat practiced—haymaking. To be precise, the making by hand and subsequent storage of hay, dried grass (as opposed to silage) for animal feed is not widely practiced by farmers. But the scything of grass by average homeowners is not that rare, though not necessarily competently done. (I own a scythe, which I use occasionally, but not well.) Langlands, who took to haying in a common way, by first scything weeds in his garden as an alternative to using a “strimmer” (a weed-whacker), discusses all the many variables that dictate methods of producing hay, from grasses to weather in different areas of Britain to the techniques developed to deal with weather. His point, made here first but applicable to all the crafts he discusses, is that craeft is the very opposite of “one size fits all”—man fits himself to craft, to the materials and technique, not the other way around. Fail to do that, and your hay rots, or it lacks nutrition, or you never even get it out of the field. The craft is not merely scythe work, “it is the correct use of these implements in the field that represents the craeft—the longer trajectory of production and use within a wider socio-economic context.” And the form of implements for every craft is often dictated by local conditions and by specific demands. Whether it is methods of “whipping” (attaching something to a stick with cord), shepherds’ crooks, the stone used in building drystone walls, or the poles used to pick apples, everything has an design dictated by nature. Plastic items, purporting to be universal tools and imported from Malaysia, are not the same thing; they cannot accomplish craft, since they are not fitted to the specifics of the work at the level that achieves excellence. After a detour to Iceland, to see farms that have been operating for more than a thousand years, Langlands returns to English craft, with one that particularly fascinates me, beekeeping. Actually, not so much beekeeping, but beehives, in the form of skeps, basket-type enclosures woven of soaked cane and straw, used before modern frame hives were invented. This is of particular interest to me since I am about to install several beehives myself, and while I doubt I’ll go for skeps, Langlands is not wrong that examining what makes a skep different from frames has much to say about bees and their keeping. Yes, you can’t harvest honey from a skep without destroying it, but by timing swarms you can avoid destroying a colony, and while honey production falls using skeps, Langlands suggests that the bees are healthier. That may well be the case, and given the current problems facing honeybees, maybe skeps should make a comeback. Next come hedges and stone walls, both ancient means of delineating the landscape and confining fields and livestock. Hedging, like all craeft, is a lot more complex than it looks. If you don’t weave branches that rise out of a hedge back into the hedge, first notching them with a billhook (which as with all such tools has infinite regional variations tied to local conditions in hedgerow species, soil, and rock), the hedge develops holes at its base, quickly expanded by animals, rapidly destroying the hedge. Like anything with a direct connection to nature, hedging is not fire-and-forget. But if properly tended, a hedge will last essentially forever, even if, like the Ship of Theseus, it is not really the same hedge. Similarly, the construction of stone walls depends on local materials and conditions. Walls that seem insubstantial and wobbly in the Hebrides are designed that way, in order to not be damaged by wind and to convince the sheep to stay away; if the local stone were more malleable, perhaps they could be made more substantial, but builders work with granite, and build walls to fit their raw material, not one-size-fits-all walls. Turning to other crafts, Langlands addresses textiles, namely wool and linen. Among other items, he focuses on Harris Tweed, woven in the Outer Hebrides and rigorously defined and protected by law. A libertarian sensibility would be offended that the government has helped and protected Harris Tweed and would be happy had Chinese wool dyed with chemical dyes replaced it under the same name. Langlands does not have a libertarian sensibility. He also spends a great deal of time on a craft that is little known today, roof thatching. Existing old thatched roofs, dating back into the nineteenth century, can be cut through in a form of archaeology, showing once again the tremendous variations over time and space dictated by local materials and techniques. And as with all crafts, thatching is both a lot harder than it looks, and a lot more special than it looks. Langlands does not mention the oft-heard claim that achieving mastery of a skill takes approximately ten thousand hours, and no doubt that’s more than some of these crafts take, but as his own learning curve shows, it’s certainly a significant amount of time that’s required. Finally, Langlands covers some other crafts, notably ploughing, moving from leather to harnesses to horses. He claims that horses are not much less efficient than diesel tractors, and better in many ways, among them resilience and sustainability. And that brings up the key question in all this—how much of craeft is workable on a large scale today, in light of both natural limitations and the demands of modern people? Langlands has three objections to the modern world for which he thinks craeft offers a solution. (I actually think he could have said quite a bit more, especially on more abstract levels, such as a discussion of how craeft relates to beauty, and how the diminution of craeft ties to the modern blindness to the very existence of beauty. But Langlands is, most of all, tied to the concrete, so this omission is not surprising.) First, he gently criticizes the mindset of “perpetual growth,” because it “contradicts the accepted reality that the Earth’s resources are finite.” Second, he believes that the decline of craeft is spiritually bad, diminishing contemplation and meaning in human life. “We have become detached from making, and it isn’t a good state for us to be in.” Third, and closely tied to the second, he draws a line between the dying of craeft and more general societal degradation, in the creation of a world drained of ties to reality, abandoning the search for excellence and ignoring the link between competency and actual achievement. As to limited resources, craeft at first does appear to be a solution, at least a partial one, since it views the making of things as limited by materials available locally, and creation and use as a sustainable cycle, not one of consumption followed by disposal. I suppose that’s true when you are wandering the Wessex countryside, largely empty of people, meditating on features like the Oxna Mere, a self-filling stock pond of mysterious construction built more than a thousand years ago. But what does this say to, and of, the millions in council housing, glued to the BBC or the Internet, often drunk or high, waiting for their next dole check? And what does it say to the further millions resident in Cool Britannia, housed in their glass towers and jetting off to vacations in Iceland and Ibiza? They’re not going to live like a Wessex farmer, and they are not real interested in even thinking about craeft, since they are mass men, in José Ortega y Gasset’s famous term. Nor, in fact, do they need to live like Wessex farmers, at least with respect to resource disappearance. Solar and nuclear energy are, at least in theory, functionally infinite, and energy, not raw materials, is the primary limiting factor in delivery of goods to the masses. (It is not true, either, that we are running out of traditional sources of energy.) Leaving aside that growth is going to stop for totally different reasons, because it is inevitable that global population will, soon enough, fall and keep falling, it is not really growth itself that is the gravamen of Langlands’s complaint, but a throwaway culture. This culture is evident everywhere, from farms having “become little more than processing plants where cheap imported animal feed is converted into meat” to plastic and cardboard being used instead of pottery or woven baskets. And the main problem with our throwaway culture is not running out of things to throw away, or places to throw them away in. Rather, it is a spiritual problem, and that is the real focus of Langlands’s book. No doubt we would all be better off spiritually if we lived our lives through a frame of craeft, though for the vast majority of us, it would be nearly an unfathomable change. It’s not going to happen, however, so no need to worry about how wrenching it might be. The slum dwellers and their overlords in their steel fortresses of power, and the rest of us in between, are not going to step away from their, and our, throwaway habits. The overlords may pay lip service to “sustainability,” but for the vast majority of them, it is nothing more. Obtaining meaning through objects, evinced in earlier ages by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, or in a different manifestation by Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, has always and ever only been the concerns of a small segment of the ruling class. Langlands seems to realize this when he observes, “Craft has, and always will, enjoy buoyancy among the luxury markets. . . . But for the everyday the cost is prohibitive.” He thinks this may be changing, as fuel costs increase, but as I say, they’re not in fact increasing, and they’re not going to. Even if they did, almost everyone is spiritually wedded to consumption, because that is what they think gives meaning to their lives. Wrenching them out of this mindset would require a massive societal reset. That leaves two groups who will, in practice, of their own accord concern themselves with craeft (other than specialists and hobbyists). Both are small. The first is those for whom craeft is a practical concern, mostly rural dwellers who are close to the physical components of craft and have some need. Even here, though, most will choose wire fencing rather than rebuilding the ancient hedge or drystone wall. The second is the spiritually focused, some of a traditional bent and some of the type who might otherwise focus on yoga or Buddhism. Neither of these is going to rebuild our world around craeft. Perhaps, though, too much focus on thatching obscures that craeft has applications whenever, in Matthew Crawford’s words, we can make something “that is meaningful because it is genuinely useful.” We achieve agency through self-reliance and the search for excellence. If we simply cultivate pushback on the throwaway culture, we will all be better off, even if we aren’t running out to build new drystone walls in our backyards and even if the throwaway culture maintains its grip. Such a pushback could be a key building block of societal renewal, of the re-creation of strong families and strong communities. Maybe—although the road from here to there is pretty blurry. I’d be perfectly happy if, as a small first step, governments clamped down on the flood of cheap imports that feed the throwaway culture. So what if limitations on trade shaved a few points from GDP? As I have said before, human flourishing doesn’t consist of the ability to buy five percent more cheap Chinese crap every year. That’s not to say I disagree with Langlands in his analysis of the problems of modernity. I wholeheartedly agree that our societies are spiritually degraded (though Britain considerably more than the United States). Turning to Langlands’s related, third objection, craeft pays homage to reality and to an understanding of the world as it is, and rejects artificiality and ideological distortions of the world. It is perhaps an unknowing grasp of this truth that drives rejection of craft (and its higher manifestations, such as beautiful architecture) by many who are ideologically wedded to modernity. And this, perhaps, is the solution. If, as I hold, the modern world embodies numerous fundamental denials of reality, it is inevitable that reality will reassert itself, and at that point, through the smoke and the corpses, perhaps craeft, embodying the resilience of human nature and of Earth, will once again find its purpose within the fabric of human society.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Alexander

    While I enjoyed the general concept of lost knowledge, the importance of knowing how to do things by hand/sustainably, and the symbiotic relationships that humans can have with their environments, the author gets deep into the weeds on fairly obscure topics that are hard to follow. I also don't buy that the Old English "craeft" does not translate well into modern English. This book would also deeply benefit from pictures, as I kept having to google what things looked like or watch videos of peop While I enjoyed the general concept of lost knowledge, the importance of knowing how to do things by hand/sustainably, and the symbiotic relationships that humans can have with their environments, the author gets deep into the weeds on fairly obscure topics that are hard to follow. I also don't buy that the Old English "craeft" does not translate well into modern English. This book would also deeply benefit from pictures, as I kept having to google what things looked like or watch videos of people undertaking his described craft (scything, threshing a roof, building a wattle) to fully understand what was going on.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anna Nesterovich

    As a person who actually knows how to do things with my hands (and was required to know that to survive at some point), I couldn't get through this ecstatic, idealistic thicket. I really wanted to enjoy it, but barely made it to page 50. As a person who actually knows how to do things with my hands (and was required to know that to survive at some point), I couldn't get through this ecstatic, idealistic thicket. I really wanted to enjoy it, but barely made it to page 50.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tiana

    Cræft by Alexander Langlands, has personally sparked a miniature renaissance of craft in my life. By chapter three I was buying heavy cream at the supermarket to make my own butter at home (delicious! easy!), and before I finished the book I'd learned how to drop spin wool into yarn. It's been a hell of a ride. Langlands is a self proclaimed idealist, and believes wholeheartedly that we in this modern world lack craft and cræft. We need to return to valuing the knowledge of how to make things, a Cræft by Alexander Langlands, has personally sparked a miniature renaissance of craft in my life. By chapter three I was buying heavy cream at the supermarket to make my own butter at home (delicious! easy!), and before I finished the book I'd learned how to drop spin wool into yarn. It's been a hell of a ride. Langlands is a self proclaimed idealist, and believes wholeheartedly that we in this modern world lack craft and cræft. We need to return to valuing the knowledge of how to make things, and to reconnect to the landscape with our hands and actual toil. He has personally forgone machinery and modern agricultural solutions to learn how to do things with older methods, and he relays those methods and experiences here in this book. Some things were far more interesting than others for me- I found the descriptions of beekeeping, sticks, wall building and hay making fascinating (city child me actually did not know exactly what hay was. Consider me now enlightened). However, I found the tedious descriptions of roof thatching and ponds endless and nearly skipped those chapters. Although my enthusiasm for the book waned over the course of reading it (for me the interesting bits seemed to be at the beginning, and the boring bits near the end unfortunately) it has sparked a true reinterest in craft, and I actually think that's the highest compliment I can give it. The author has a true fervor for the subject, which is contagious and admirable, if sometimes a bit too nostalgic. I haven't quite decided how much I am willing to walk with him in this journey of doing things the old way. I am a big fan of "all things in balance" and at times Landlands feels like he wants us all to go back to an earlier age, to a "better way" of doing things. I love crafting by hand, but I am also a big sucker for the grid, and the conveniences of modern life. Langlands has also costarred in several BBC historical re-enactment tv shows which he mentions in an early chapter. I looked them up and watched them all, and they are a fantastic companion to the book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lyn Relph

    This is an anthropologist’s book. Some of its data come from archaeological digs at sites of “estate” operations in Britain’s past, but Langlands has spent his life in pursuit of traditional craft practices, craft knowledge accumulation and lifeways on traditional estates going back to Roman days. He has read the available literature, interviewed remnant practitioners of numerous traditional crafts essential to an agricultural way of life, — he has even taken lessons from some of these masters — This is an anthropologist’s book. Some of its data come from archaeological digs at sites of “estate” operations in Britain’s past, but Langlands has spent his life in pursuit of traditional craft practices, craft knowledge accumulation and lifeways on traditional estates going back to Roman days. He has read the available literature, interviewed remnant practitioners of numerous traditional crafts essential to an agricultural way of life, — he has even taken lessons from some of these masters — practiced the skills in his own life on his own land, and what he ultimately provides us is a walk through the society and culture of those traditional estates (including monasteries, though the book has no mention of them). “Downton Abbey” fans know some of the goings-on in traditional estate homes. With Craeft we go down into essential infrastructures, not as deep as the primary requisites of clean water supply and careful waste elimination, but back before we were farmers as far as chipping a spearpoint or axblade and then attaching the blade to a stick. Moving forward in time we look at problems of taming animals and taming the land, digging holes and plowing fields, removing trees and stones but leaving some forest untouched. Then fields get defined in the lowlands, some with stone walls and others with hedges, some for orchards, some for field crops and some for livestock. We are reminded that each of these task areas requires a master — or mistress — and crew thoroughly grounded in the knowledge and skills needed for success — failure is not an option. The main crops are for food and fodder. Humans share fodder with stock for part of their diet; gardens supplement staples with vegetables, herbs and medicinal ingredients. A sizable bee-keeping operation is a necessity. So is a pond. More masters or mistresses and crews. The extended household depends on housing for all crew members as well as outbuildings for storage and shop spaces where work can go on. Straw from the hay fodder makes thatch for roofs on all the structures. A tight thatch roof is good for about twenty years, Langlands tells us, so the thatcher crew has to get roofs on all the other structures before its first roof begins to come loose. Weaving of many different kinds has to go on constantly. Baskets need replacing. Pots must be ready for jobs baskets can’t do. Barriers made of woven saplings are needed by the shepherds, especially during shearing, to make pens. There’s even a little woven boat called a coracle — stretch an oxhide over the woven skeleton and go fishing. Thread (of wool and other materials) needs spinning, then carpets, covers, clothing of many kinds need weaving, cutting and sewing. Many more busy crews. I remember on our own couple of acres weaving suckers pruned from apple trees into the garden fencing to proof it against deer. Leather needs tanning for shoes, boots and raingear, for harness and many kinds of iron or steel hardware. The blacksmith crew needs to work soft metals as well as hard. Carpenter crew produces carts, drays, sledges and wagons for the hauling, power supplied by the horse crew. For plowing oxen are better. Then there are seasonal demands on the fields and up the hillsides. As hillsides turn green, stock must be moved to that fresh source of fodder, which goes on through summer to mid-fall, while the new crop matures in the lowlands for harvest and storage towards the over-winter fodder supply. Harvest was the busiest time for all, and all joined in for the harvest home. The big house has special needs like slates for roofing and premium hardwoods for furnishings. Fine tapestries provide beautiful art as well as valuable insulation. The big house shelters the library, everyone’s resource. Symbolic and ceremonial gatherings require the big house to show to its very best and demonstrate its finest hosting spirit. And there’s more, much more, even without this book devoting a word to military matters, let alone hunting and fishing. I expected a lot of how-to, and there are some passages explaining how things are done, but without illustrations we readers can’t get clear sharp pictures of how things got done. We’re given just enough to recognize how much skill was required, how long it took to master the skills, and how “mastery” set the practitioner apart, elevated her or him to quasi-genius status as miracle worker on the estate and provider of highly visible distinction among estates in the local district. There were great estates, so-so ones and many that barely survived. The crews made the difference, mostly — they were the craeft people. Among the many meanings of the word craft brought out in this fine book there is one more not to be missed: the book is itself a craft for time travel, taking us back into that now lost world where everybody depended on everybody else to do their jobs, raise and instruct the next generation to keep all the jobs well covered on into the far future, for no one else was going to come along and fill an empty position. If some particular job of work didn’t get done for a few seasons, no one would even know the first thing about completing that step in the program.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jo Anne

    As a big fan of books that detail how cultures are shaped - Mark Kurlansky ‘s work for example - Langlands’ book is a great addition to the genre. More than once I had a gasp- and-shut-the-book moment. Highly recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    Men did this, men did that, on and on and on. Where do women play a role?? After the third chapter, I hope. God he drones on and on and YES we know u were on BBC.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Almost everything that you buy these days has come out of a factory, probably based somewhere in the Far East and whilst the quality is generally serviceable, it often isn't. Quality has always come at a price, and more people are rediscovering the advantages of using a well-made basket, or correctly balanced tool. Something that has fascinated Alexander Langlands for years is looking at the way that we used to make and do things. As an experienced experimental archaeologist who has appeared on Almost everything that you buy these days has come out of a factory, probably based somewhere in the Far East and whilst the quality is generally serviceable, it often isn't. Quality has always come at a price, and more people are rediscovering the advantages of using a well-made basket, or correctly balanced tool. Something that has fascinated Alexander Langlands for years is looking at the way that we used to make and do things. As an experienced experimental archaeologist who has appeared on many BBC programmes alongside Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn running a farm set in different eras, he has learnt the techniques and the ways that they farmed in those days. His fascination or borderline obsession with crafts of all sorts has led to him considering it in a wider context. He calls this cræft. He considers it more than that just being able to make a useful object with your hands that you can use, it is sometime about technique, using limited resources in an intelligent way. A scythe is a good example. For large amounts of ground to cut, a form of mechanical mower will save you time, but not necessarily money. However, if you only have a small amount of land to cut with a bit of practice you can cut it in around the same time as it would have taken with a strimmer. There are plenty more examples in her, from coracle building, dry stone walls, beekeeping and the alchemy that fire can bring to materials. A properly made product can last for a decent amount of time, are sustainable in the materials they use and can be readily repaired, unlike most modern things that break too soon, and get slung in the bin as there are no spares. It is an interesting book and Langlands is an entertaining writer. He picks up on the themes in Why Making Things is Good for You by Peter Korn. They are both right about the process of discovering, researching and making an item with our own hands is far more fulfilling that staring at a screen. It does occasionally ventures into hipster territory I think that it suffers from the a romantic view through rose tinted hand crafted spectacles of what was for a lot of people in the past hard and back breaking work.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Frederique Courard-Hauri

    Great read! We have a tendency to underappreciate the skills of our forbears and paint the modern internet age in rosy colors, but that is a dangerous thing to do, particularly now as we see the effects of plastics and fossil fuel use on the planet. In each chapter of this book I found myself excited about the skills Langlands was describing. Now I want a weekend cottage where I can whittle, weave baskets, make and use old-fashioned bee skeps -- and pretty much everything else he talks about, to Great read! We have a tendency to underappreciate the skills of our forbears and paint the modern internet age in rosy colors, but that is a dangerous thing to do, particularly now as we see the effects of plastics and fossil fuel use on the planet. In each chapter of this book I found myself excited about the skills Langlands was describing. Now I want a weekend cottage where I can whittle, weave baskets, make and use old-fashioned bee skeps -- and pretty much everything else he talks about, too. (Let's forget about the fact that as an archaeologist this is what he does for a living, so my ability to do all these things as weekend hobbies is impossible. But still, I can daydream.) The only thing I didn't like was the male-centricity of this book. Even the weaving chapter focused only on male weavers of tweed. Really, now, I'm no archaeologist but I'm pretty sure men *and women* were integral to the success of any smallholding.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rosser

    I don't think anyone who isn't a social history nerd can fully enjoy and appreciate this book. And it helps to be a bit of an Anglophile. If you enjoy the BBC and PBS programs that delve deeply into the everyday of British Isles/Norse history, then you'll love it. The author is an archeologist who contributes as a participant to creating some of those programs, and his enthusiasm and exuberance for those roles spills over into the book. If you are reading it and feel that it's becoming too pedan I don't think anyone who isn't a social history nerd can fully enjoy and appreciate this book. And it helps to be a bit of an Anglophile. If you enjoy the BBC and PBS programs that delve deeply into the everyday of British Isles/Norse history, then you'll love it. The author is an archeologist who contributes as a participant to creating some of those programs, and his enthusiasm and exuberance for those roles spills over into the book. If you are reading it and feel that it's becoming too pedantic and you're getting mired down in details, at least skip to the final chapter - his postscript is the most thoughtful and meaningful reflection on what modern life has become that I've ever read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rosewater

    Interesting subjects, however the author is arrogant and begins his book with a diatribe against battery-powered pepper mills. It's amazing that he can do so much research on history, but cannot realize that battery-powered pepper mills were invented for the mobility impaired and not because humanity has become more lazy. He also writes as if men were the only creatures on these farms of the past, which is a conceit I would expect in a book pre-dating the 60s and 70s, and not one published in 20 Interesting subjects, however the author is arrogant and begins his book with a diatribe against battery-powered pepper mills. It's amazing that he can do so much research on history, but cannot realize that battery-powered pepper mills were invented for the mobility impaired and not because humanity has become more lazy. He also writes as if men were the only creatures on these farms of the past, which is a conceit I would expect in a book pre-dating the 60s and 70s, and not one published in 2018.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Oracleanne

    I'll be honest, I didn't get far in this one. I think it's pretentious and elitist to say that creating a topiary with mechanized tools makes it have less artistic merit than someone who only uses hand tools, or that someone who uses a sewing machine uses less skill than someone who hand quilts. I had high hopes, but I DNF'd really hard. I'll be honest, I didn't get far in this one. I think it's pretentious and elitist to say that creating a topiary with mechanized tools makes it have less artistic merit than someone who only uses hand tools, or that someone who uses a sewing machine uses less skill than someone who hand quilts. I had high hopes, but I DNF'd really hard.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eve Apple

    I really thought this was going to be too boring to read but it really wasn't. It was great. I really thought this was going to be too boring to read but it really wasn't. It was great.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sonja

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Langlands style is as warm and appealing as it is informative. While I appreciated his minute descriptions of various endangered pre-industrial methodologies, what I loved more were his observations about the value of skill and resourcefulness in both practical and spiritual terms. The sections within the chapter are punctuated with an illustration of a hand, an enduring symbol of humanity and our defining practical intelligence. I often longed for diagrams or pict I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Langlands style is as warm and appealing as it is informative. While I appreciated his minute descriptions of various endangered pre-industrial methodologies, what I loved more were his observations about the value of skill and resourcefulness in both practical and spiritual terms. The sections within the chapter are punctuated with an illustration of a hand, an enduring symbol of humanity and our defining practical intelligence. I often longed for diagrams or pictures. Indeed, I frequently needed to stop reading and google the various implements described. While there is one set of images early on, for the bulk of the text we are only teased by charming chapter header illustrations. More pictures, please! My major complaint is that this book should probably be entitled "CraeftsMEN." This is a wholly wonderful book as it stands. Langlands is an archaeologist with a specialization in agricultural practices. But the absence of any craftswomen crept up on me early and became uncomfortably cavernous as I worked my way through. Weaving. Surely, surely we'll see some women here? Pottery? No? Baskets? Nope. I don't think this omission was intentional. The meat of the book is made up of descriptions of techniques written in passive voice and are effectively disembodied. Then there are the fantastic personal stories told by Langlands himself, by necessity from the point of view of a man. But the only women who appear, if my recollection is accurate, are two wives and a daughter who are only seen as assistants or by-standers to the master craftsmen in their lives. While I don't argue the relevance of these anecdotes, I did wonder if Langlands had cut additional anecdotes that contained craftswomen or if the nature of his specialization had meant he didn't have any. Some of the trouble comes from that bete noire of history-loving feminists (used here neutrally as humans who believe in equality along the gender spectrum): Invisible Women. "Because when we say human, on the whole, we mean man." As amply demonstrated by Caroline Criado Perez in her book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. In the instance of this book, this may come from a paucity of archeological evidence of womanly crafts, which are often rendered in impermanent mediums like food, music, dance, cloth, and maintenance work. Actually, I felt especially bereft, because Langlands' book has such an affection for maintenance and the quiet dignity of a job well done. The Invisible Women problem also comes from the textual silencing of women, either via contemporaneous exclusion from education or power structures, and the subsequent omission of women's contributions by editors antique and modern. While every author is not obliged to write every book, Langlands wrote a book and called it "Craeft" and then almost comically avoided any hint of a feminine contribution to what he argues is the keystone of human civilization, making him one of those modern historians contributing to the erasure of women's work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    2.5 stars // Read for my arts book club. Many in the group found it too dry, too agricultural, too long-winded. It is surely not a book about craft in the modern sense. The author, an archaeologist and medieval historian, is clearly passionate about his subject. The multiple television series about historic farmsteads, in which he was involved, may well prove better than the book. (I have not seen them.) I think a reader's enjoyment will be critically dependent on interest level of each presented 2.5 stars // Read for my arts book club. Many in the group found it too dry, too agricultural, too long-winded. It is surely not a book about craft in the modern sense. The author, an archaeologist and medieval historian, is clearly passionate about his subject. The multiple television series about historic farmsteads, in which he was involved, may well prove better than the book. (I have not seen them.) I think a reader's enjoyment will be critically dependent on interest level of each presented discipline. Personally, I found the chapters on weaving (chapter 7), pottery (12), and basketry (14) the most readable. The rest was rough going. A final postscript, Cræft & Contemplation, attempts to pull everything together and is worthwhile. The absence of images throughout the book was truly disappointing. Additional chapters feature hay making, stick usage / tools, beekeeping, fence and wall building, hedgerows, thatch roofing, leather / animal hide tanning, farming and field rotation, pond construction, ditch digging, boat building. A few notes... Ideas on craft = lack of mechanical assistance; requires hand-eye coordination p. 136 - Weaver's dilemma - "make something well, and from good materials, and it will last beyond one generation. But what do you do when everyone already has [one]? [...] But because we no longer appreciate the huge amount of effort and work that once went into making cloth traditionally we don't see the inherent value of a handcrafted weave. We don't understand the cræft knowledge that underpins it." p. 180 - "Archaeology became so much more than just stuff in the ground. It became an exploration of what it was to be human, not only because we are makers but because we are resourcers, gatherers with an inveterate knowledge of the natural world around us." p. 230 - "Nothing grows eternally, after all, and it is arguably a philosophical flaw of our modern times that growth has become the ultimate objective for politicians and economists. [...] the days of industrial processes that 'take, make and dispose' may be drawing to a close and new economic models need to be explored." p. 333 - allowing materials to speak for themselves p. 337 - "It's unhealthy when we are disconnected from making." p. 340 - "I get angry over the lack of basketry in our lives. [...] when a basket's working life is over, it can be left to rot, to be given back to the earth and to be replaced at no cost to the environment. We just need to give someone the time to make it for us."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    This is an utterly fascinating and absorbing book. I’d recommend reading it one chapter at a time to allow yourself time to think over each one. There is so much knowledge in this book that trying to read more than one chapter makes one’s head explode with the sheer volume of interesting side-thoughts one has!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elisa Strickler

    3.5 stars. I would have loved for this book to have contained illustrations, but I did enjoy the author’s writing style and use of language to describe things about which I may otherwise have never known.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy

    Interesting and well written nerd book for those who love history and crafting. Not exactly bed time reading, but his anecdotes and musings are quite engaging.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alyson Podesta

    i want a scythe

  30. 4 out of 5

    Freya

    3.5 stars, review to come :)

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