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The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger Hardcover – April 9, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st Ed. edition (April 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691123241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691123240
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (160 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #430,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Shortlisted for the 2006 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year

Winner of the 2007 Bronze Medal in Finance/Investment/Economics, Independent Publisher Book Awards

Honorable Mention for the 2006 John Lyman Book Award, Science and Technology category, North American Society for Ocean History

Winner of the 2007 Anderson Medal, Society for Nautical Research

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More About the Author

Marc Levinson is an economist and historian specializing in business and finance. He was formerly finance and economics editor of The Economist, worked as an economist at a New York bank, and served as senior fellow for international business at the Council on Foreign Relations. For more information, check out his website at www.marclevinson.net.

Customer Reviews

Both are highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of transportation and logistics.
Therese C.
While most are just citations for facts, about one in twenty includes details which were not in the related chapter, but well could have been.
J H Murphy
Marc Levinson provided great historical insight and an understanding on just how the container changed and shaped our world today.
Jaime Leal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

255 of 263 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on August 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "On the waterfront," perhaps the saddest point of the film is where Fr. Barry eulogizes K. O. Duggan, killed off by the mob. But Marc Levinson has located a larger villain, the real force that killed off so many longshoremen's careers: the standardized shipping container. While a highly trained crane operator working today's docks earns $120,000 a year, their numbers are few and few of them are former longshoremen or sons of longshoremen. And cargo handling costs have dropped over 90%. Yet this is only the start. The shipping container reduced spoilage, theft, insurance costs, delays, and the entire cost of going global.

Levinson's well-researched treatment of a seemingly pedestrian subject works effectively to show that the world is not flat. The original dust cover of Friedman's best-selling book shows a tall-masted ship going over the edge of the 'flat' earth, confirming flat earth society members' discarded beliefs but distorting and mischaracterizing globalization. Levinson's rich, detailed, data-filled work shows the stark difference between Levinson's work with The Economist and Friedman's with The New York Times. Levinson uses a thorough, comprehensive economic and technological analysis, while Friedman flies around the world with a consistent "gee whiz" attitude of surprise. Levinson traces multitudes of disparate events and finds common links where Friedman finds common links and illustrates them with cursory events. Levinson is an economist; Friedman is a journalist. Friedman mixes metaphors and hyperbole; Levinson mixes in a wide range of colorful characters and challenges. Levinson is an editor; Friedman needs one. People who want to understand the recent history, impetus and infrastructure of globalization need to read "The box.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By E. Husman on February 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first thing that struck me about the impact of the shipping container was the public policy impact on it. Before the shipping container, shipping, trucking, and railroading were heavily regulated by the ICC. Rates were set not only according to weight and distance, but also according to contents. Thus, the cost of shipping 1000 pounds of tires would be different than, say, 1000 pounds of grain, and not just because of density differences. This apparently goes back to the complaints made by shippers in the late 19th century, and made sense to regulators in that era. Also, prior to the container, shippers were allowed to charge less than truckers because ships took longer. So if a ship already had a stated rate for, say, wheat, between two ports, truckers were not allowed to charge less (or something like that - Levinson didn't attempt to explain the intricacies of ICC regulation). Further, shipping between American ports was restricted to American flagged ships, and international shipping was heavily regulated and subsidized - to qualify for the subsidy, you had to use American built ships, and the subsidy supposedly helped make up for the more expensive American crew. One final government involvement in the era just prior to the shipping container's introduction: many of the ships currently in use in 1956 were WWII surplus ships, built on the cheap and available for next to nothing. It was relatively easy to get into the business, as very little capital was required, and ships could ply from port to port picking up freight as they went.

Enter the shipping container, 1956.

But wait: the container requires different infrastructure. The story of the shipping container is also the story of ports where governments chose to support the companies investing in the container.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Harry Eagar VINE VOICE on November 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It's hard now to imagine a world without marine shipping containers, but the first one was loaded onto a ship, the Ideal-X, just 50 years ago. Precisely, on April 26, 1956, in Newark, N.J.

It turned the world upside down. It probably had as much to do with the success of Waikiki as the jet airliner, introduced in 1960.

The story has a hero, Malcom McLean, and it plays out, for him and for many others, as tragedy.

In "The Box," Marc Levinson makes business history read like a novel. Well, almost.

Like many simple, everyday things, the shipping container is more complicated than it looks. Just how do you design a steel box that can hold 20 tons but also has to be picked up without being touched by human hands and moved from ship to truck in less than a minute?

McLean, a North Carolina boy who founded a trucking empire in the days of heavy regulation in order to save $3, took the plunger's approach. In the Pacific, Matson Navigation Co. was also interested in converting from expensive breakbulk cargo handling, but it took the systems approach.

McLean beat Matson by two years, but Matson is still around (as the principal subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.), while McLean's SeaLand survives today only as a subsidiary (a very large one) of a Danish business that didn't exist until 1973.

McLean did not imagine he was going to restructure the world economy, but his idea did that, which is why this book deserves a wider audience than business histories usually get.

The container killed off New York and London as important shipping ports. New York City now handles only a little more cargo each year than Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, which did not exist in 1990.
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