Book Review – Builder’s Apprentice: A Memoir by Andrew J. Hoffman

Henry Ladd

Henry Ladd

By Henry R. Ladd

Builder’s Apprentice masterfully advocates for the pursuit of a personally engaging career and provides a vivid glimpse into the world of custom home building. This memoir tells the story of how Andy Hoffman made a decision in 1986 to turn down acceptances to graduate school at Harvard and Berkeley to become a carpenter on Nantucket and, later, a builder of high-end custom homes. As someone who made a similar decision after graduating from college in 2005, I find that this memoir captures the importance of personalizing your career choice, outlines some of the many implications of this decision, and provides a valuable glimpse into a world unfamiliar to most people outside of the industry.

Moving from a white-collar engineering job to life on the job site, Andy describes his social standing as it evolves with his new job. As I can attest given my transition from college student to carpenter, people are often mystified or even judgmental when you depart from a typical career track. Andy outlines this social transition through interactions with friends, family, and his former peer group of young professionals and highlights how those relationships change. Though many people’s perceptions change and new acquaintances may be quick to pass judgment, many people are supportive and understanding of such a bold and heart-felt decision. By making such a move, Andy was able to employ his outsiders’ point of view to gain perspective on the building industry.

Whether you have been involved in a building project, are interested in learning about building, or simply curious to understand something new, Andy’s in-depth descriptions of building and a job site’s inner workings are invaluable. Through a collection of humorous stories, serious analysis of power dynamics, and personal reflections, a dynamic view of the job site emerges. You learn how the design process is viewed from a builder’s perspective, how trust is an elusive but invaluable attribute in the building world, and, simply, how a house is constructed. While the imagery of building comes alive, the larger implications of this move in Andy’s life become clear.By pursuing something that truly excited him, Andy was able to develop personally and professionally in a way that he couldn’t have otherwise. The passion that drove him to try carpentry drove him to excel at his job and form an identity as a builder. Though Andy no longer works as a home-builder, the excitement for building that propelled him twenty years ago continues to drive him as a professor today. As I follow my own career path, it is stories like this one that encourage me to remain active in the pursuit of my dreams and know that if I’m energized by my job and excited about what I’m doing, then good things will happen.


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