Sunday, September 4, 2011

Books: The Box



You might have the seen the long rectangular boxes used for shipping in either movies or in real life. In movies, the hero is fighting villains on top of these boxes. In real life, these might be hauled by either trains or trucks. Yes, I am talking about the containers. Have you ever wondered the impact of containers in our daily life? We may have not realized it. But the containers have changed the world we live in. Marc Levinson, an economist and a journalist, tells us the how containers changed the rules in shipping business and eventually making the world smaller.

At the beginning of the book, Marc gives us a glimpse of how a container terminal operate in the modern world powered by technology and hence very insignificant number of men. This is in direct contrast with the years prior to 1956 when the first container sailed off from a port. Before 1956 and also to some years from then, the longshoremen played a very important part in shipping. This also meant unions, rampant corruption and a job which was hereditary. If there is any one man that needs to credited for the container boom, it is Malcom McLean. Although he did not invent containers, it is his vision of the capabilities of containers that led to him to acquire a shipping company and transform the business.

The journey of containers is rampant with difficulties. First, the unions had to be convinced. Then, the ports had to be redesigned. Then businesses need to be convinced. But no one including the shipping industry, the government or the union could fathom the changes that would be triggered by containers. Most of the city officials miscalculated the impact resulting in the gradual deterioration of the earlier busy ports in the major cities. The unions miscalculated the loss of jobs as the earlier work of longshoremen were now shifted to the factories. The shipping industry miscalculated the impact of fluctuating fuel prices. The highly regulated industry in US added to the woes of the shipping industry.

Marc writes a captivating non-fiction book on containers. He drives it on facts and avoids any anecdotal mentions. Despite of avoiding anecdotes and humor, this book ends up as a very interesting one because of the narrative. He builds his novel in a well structured way so as to present the events to lead the reader effortlessly and naturally to the conclusion. He mentions the lack of proper scientific study on the effect of containers and also the lack of documentation available on containers in his preface. So it has been a challenge for him to find the material for the book. Against all odds, he succeeds.

If you are interested in non-fiction, this is recommended.

Tags: Books,Marc Levinson,Containers

4 comments:

  1. Wow.. A book on containers!!. Seems a must read. Its a wonder that something so simple and uncomplicated as a rectangular box should have a history behind it.

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  2. @Harish - Surprising. Isn't it? That is what made me choose this book. It was an interesting read.

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  3. awesome..who would have thought that there will be a book on something like containers-which we take for granted! Sounds interesting and very good review!

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  4. @Akanksha- Thanks. Yes, I also was surprised to find such a book. That amused me and also made me curious.

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