23 November 2009

The Box: How The Shipping Container Made The World Smaller And The World Economy Bigger

A book about the history of the shipping container? At first, one has to wonder why. (An eventuality not lost on the author, who muses "What is it about the container that is so important?

Surely not the thing itself...the standard container has all the romance of a tin can.") The catch, though, is that Levinson, an economist, "treats containerization not as shipping news, but as a development that has sweeping consequences for workers and consumers all around the globe." That latter statement drives this book, which is about the economic ramifications of the shipping container-from the closing of traditional (and antiquated) ports to the rise of Asia as the world's preeminent provider of inexpensive consumer goods (distributed, naturally, using mammoth shipping containers).

Levinson maintains his focus on the economics of shipping vast quantities of merchandise, organizing the book into snappy, thematic chapters on different facets of shipping ("The Trucker," and "Union Disunion," for instance), an approach that lends itself well to spot-reading. Throughout, the writing is clean-more informal than rigidly academic (union boss Teddy Gleason is "a voluble Irishman born hard by the New York docks")-making the book suitable for casual readers as well as students looking for a different take on the evolution of 20th-century world economics.

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