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Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate Hardcover – August 13, 2013
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book, because it answered some of my many questions. Savannahians in particular (including myself) and people in general don't understand how much our modern world with all its international foods and products rests on maritime transportation. In an early chapter, the author, Rose George, does a non-scientific, man-on-the-street survey of people, so see if they know what percentage of goods comes by sea. The highest guess she got was thirty percent. As the title implies, it's three times that. Most people assume our goods come via plane because they're some much quicker. Container ships may move at a relatively glacial pace, but they cannot be beat for cost-effictiveness. In one of the most shocking lines of the book, the reader finds that it is cheaper to have fish caught in Scotland, frozen and shipped to China to be filleted, and then frozen and shipped back to be sold in Scottish grocery stores, RATHER than pay to Scottish workers to process the fish. The obsession with the bottom-line boggles my mind in this case, but it gives the reader an idea that shipping by boat only adds a penny or two to the cost of most goods.
Ms. George manages to book a passage on a Danish cargo ship that is captained by an experienced British mariner. There were many bits of this book I found surprising. To begin with, sailors that work for this particular copy are unable to drink alcohol, even when while in port. With the speed at which container ships are off and re-loaded, the crew would only hae a few hours to drink anyway. To paraphrase the captain," I used to wonder if I could catch dinner, now I wonder if I can pick up a newspaper."
Most of the ships are now crewed by a mixture of nationalities with a heavy concentration of Filipinos (because they'll work for low wages and many speak English). It's appalling to find how often sailors are screwed out of their wages and treated shabbily in general by officers, the shipping companies, or the employment agencies. Companies are able to get away with abuses in part because of the flag of convenience rule, which allows ships to register with nations like Liberia or Panama, countries that have relatively lax regulations.
There are eleven chapters, all of them dealing with different aspects of shipping and life at sea and two chapters devoted to piracy. I was most interested in the chapters on shipwrecks and rescue at sea. I was dismayed to learn that it is becoming more common for cargo ships to ignore distress signals so they can stick to their schedules.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The chapter on maritime shipping's effect only whales was only part of the book I found a bit dull. I hope that the book gains a wide readership and the public becomes more aware of the difficult conditions sailors live under so we can have cheap goods.
This is a good book which does a good job of trying but really loses track and misses out on some great opportunities.
I found the description of the day to day activity of the crew and the threat of pirates interesting as far as they went. However, Ms. George appears to have been somewhat stymied by an uncommunicative Captain and crew and by the lack of contact with anything approaching a real pirate. She therefore drifts off into discussions of whales and shipwrecks, seemingly in an attempt to fill out the rest of the book. I am afraid she completely missed the opportunity to talk about, among other things, the impact this technology has, together with the internet, in enabling Tom Friedman's flat world. Any book about the container industry that fails to even mention Walmart seems shallow and sadly lacking.