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The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World… (2006)
de Marc Levinson
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I found it fascinating to see how a great idea–packaging freight in large metal boxes that can move seamlessly between truck, rail, and ship–took decades to take hold as economic, technical, and labor issues changed. It’s also about a fundamental infrastructure technology that dramatically changed the world economy. It’s got some numbers and technical details, but it’s a well-told story, too. ( )
FYI, 58% of this book is the book, the rest is notes, bibliography, and index. I checked it out from my library, yay libraries!
Although the author goes into the kind of detail my brain will never retain, and although I did skim and even skip several chapters because of that, I did get the sort of overall understanding I was looking for, so that's a win. I'd thought the process from breakbulk shipping to streamlining in large containers was less fraught than it turned out to have been. Well, humans will human; we want prosperity, but we get in each other's and our own way more often than not.
A really good history and a quick read but leaves you wanting so much more of the details especially outside of the USA and Europe.
Good idea. Well-researched. Horribly written. Horrendously organized. Overly repetitive. Amazingly dry. Topic poorly explained.
In economic theory, standardization goes hand in hand with division of labor; Adam Smith's pin factory wouldn't have worked nearly so well without a single pin size. Examples of useful standards are everywhere: the metric system, TCP/IP packets, DIN slots, shoe sizes... some are driven by physical needs, others are arbitrary, but when they were decided, all created winners and losers. Few international standards have created more winners and losers than the shipping container, one of the most important standards of the 20th century, and Marc Levinson transforms what could have been a deadly boring trudge through ISO meeting minutes into a fairly interesting, if somewhat disjointed account of the irresistible force of containerization and the not-quite immovable objects of shipping lines, railroads, trucking companies, labor unions, and port authorities trying to hang onto obsolete shares of the inefficient pre-containerization transport landscape. Before The Box, shipping was a torturously slow, expensive, loss- and theft-prone venture dominated by industry cartels and longshoreman's unions, each more concerned with protecting their own high profits and wages than facilitating commerce. Enter self-made transport tycoon Malcom McLean, whose business savvy and early embrace of the container allowed him to exert vast commercial, industrial, and military influence on the country even while remaining fairly obscure. Seemingly minor decisions, like what kind of clasp should be used to seal the container, or how many sizes there should be, had billion-dollar consequences, to say nothing of the shifting flows of wealth from San Fransisco, New York, and London to Oakland, East Rutherford, and Felixstowe. I really liked how Levinson avoided casting anyone in the story as a hero or villain; economics isn't a simple morality play of noble innovators versus evil protectionists, and it's easy to forget that while containerization has created thousands of companies and millions of jobs, there were still costs for the businesses, people, and cities who couldn't adapt, that we measure in empty warehouses, vacant lots, and rusting pylons. Consumer surplus in the form of lower transaction costs does not always create new jobs. I just wish there had been more graphs to clarify the extremely data-rich narrative, which also jumps around in time almost constantly, making it tough to tell exactly what's going on. What a fascinating story of one of the most under-appreciated shapes in the world.
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Wikipedia en anglès (9)
In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container's creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about. Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible. But the container didn't just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology. It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean's success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container's potential. Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world's workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.
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Classificació Decimal de Dewey (DDC)387.5442 — Social sciences Commerce, Communications, Transportation Rivers, Oceans, and Flight Maritime History
LCC (Clas. Bibl. Congrés EUA)
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