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Showing 1-10 of 174 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 222 reviews
on August 20, 2006
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."

Fifty years ago, maverick southern trucker Malcolm McLean devised a method for a quantum leap forward in the handling of cargo in transit. At that time, the process of loading and offloading of ships had not changed much in hundreds of years. Loose cargo, irregular, unpredictable and back-breaking work, light-fingered workers, corrupt stevedores, poor management, and mob-controlled unions were the order of the day and most orders changed on a daily basis. The workers probably suffered the most, but the hidden impact on global trade was severe as well. Some small and expensive products -- whiskey, watches -- could not be shipped reliably and safely when subject to massive pilferage. While containers started as a domestic solution, their global use worked miracles in reducing the costs of getting products thousands of miles, and not just on what came to be huge, fast new ocean sailing ships. Railroads and truckers participated in this transformation. Markets opened up. Ports like Felixstowe (England) and Singapore emerged rapidly, displacing older, intransigent ports. Military shipping in containers from America's west coast for the Vietnam War made return trips with stop offs in Japan a cheap, added source of shipping revenue. Cheap-to-ship Japanese products flooded America. Ports sprung up where investors and governments were willing to build cranes, re-build docks and dredge canals. Corrupt, inefficient labor could be bypassed and eliminated, no matter how powerful the union or onerous the contracts. Free trade multiplied.

Sometimes global revolutionary change is not sexy. It's not even computer-driven. Maybe the computer chip spurred globalization, but it was the container ship that made it possible. The idea is to make trade fast, reliable and inexpensive, not just to make the world flat. Containers are like computer chips; they hold lots of stuff in a well-organized fashion. Without the containers, the global transportation network would be running much slower and more costly than it does today. Levinson catalogs a history of shadowy billionaires, entrepreneurs, and a few enlightened governments (the demise of London and New York City ports under much less enlightened leaders is especially painful) that produced a true global revolution. This book is a greater tale of globalization.

I only wish Levinson had included some photographs and more drawings. Some of the technical and industry-specific language can be dry and hard to visualize through verbal descriptions alone.
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Shipping is always a subject that has fascinated me-from the Phoenicians to the Dutch and the Americans, the history of the world is the history of shipping. I had high hopes for this book, because I thought containerized shipping was one of the major technologies of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the book came up a little short.

=== The Good Stuff ===

* Marc Levinson takes a stab at a rather complex topic, and in some areas does quite well. The introduction of containerized shipping is also the death knell for powerful longshoremen's unions; the need for huge capital investments in port facilities, something that was always an afterthought; and the need to change the way just about every company does business.

* The author also does a reasonable job of describing the changes brought upon the world by the growth of the shipping container. Freight rates fell, which changed the way business was done in the world. But there were also changes in waterfront neighborhoods, creations of entirely new cities, and the decay and decline of what had always been major seaports.

* Malcolm Mclean, the founder of SeaLand, is profiled in this book, and he comes across as a interesting, if somewhat unfamiliar character. I definitely got a feel for his risk-taking, betting his company numerous times on what were little more than hunches about how shipping should work. There is also brief profiles of a few labor leaders, and their futile struggles to delay the loss of jobs to automated material handling in ports.

=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===

* While Mclean is profiled, I never really got a feel for the man. He stays aloof throughout the book, although his accomplishments and strategies are discussed numerous times.

* The book repeats itself quite a bit. As an example, the text must have stated 25 times that there are few useable records of shipping costs prior to 1980. OK, I got the point. And while on the subject, surely there are ways of estimating these.

* I am a bit of a geek, and was hoping for more insight on how the system really works. Who tracks all the containers? Who owns them, and how are they paid. How exactly does the process work by which a container is picked up by a truck at a factory, shipped by rail, loaded on a ship, shipped again by rail, and finally delivered by truck. Who manages the whole flow? How are the containers tracked? Is this what logistics companies do? Does it cost extra for your container to be safely in the hold rather than deck cargo? None of these types of topics were even hinted at, a major disappointment for me.

=== Summary ===

The book was OK, but came up short in my opinion. There was so much more I would have liked to know about how containerized shipping really works, none of which was included. The book is more a history of how port facilities were planned and developed to support containers, with some analysis of the global effects of this technology. If you are interested in how shipping and globalization influence each other, this is not a bad book. If you are mostly interested in how containers actually travel, you will be disappointed.
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on September 18, 2015
OUTSTANDING! This book discusses everything about the origin, development, and consequences of the shipping container box. It discusses it's early attempts in the 1920s through the 1950s, it's revolutionary development by Malcom McLane in the 1950s and 1960s, and the world - wide economic and social consequences. It gives a thorough presentation of how some long - established ports such as the London east end, the New York Manhattan and Brooklyn docks, and the port of Liverpool died while ports that were insignificant in 1960 such as Singapore, Shanghai, and Busan evolved into today's mega ports. Not surprisingly, the ports that died did so as a combination of geography, incredible union recalcitrance and stupidity, poor government decisions, and business short - sightedness. There is also extensive discussion and analysis of the international economic consequences of the vastly lowered international shipping costs. One interesting point that the author makes that I found most interesting: it wasn't US (or any country's) import tariffs that really protected national industries and manufacturers from foreign competition from countries such as Japan, China, and South Korea. It was the relatively high cost of ocean shipping that protected them. Once international shipping costs fell drastically, US industry was almost immediately subjected to competition that it had never encountered before.
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on June 11, 2015
I enjoy "how stuff works" books and this one delivered!

Container shipping is a business-to-business technology. Few consumers have ever directly sent or received a TEU container. Thus, one of the transformative technologies of the 20th century has gotten relatively little public attention.

The technology itself is straightforward: put a lot of cargo in a large box (20 feet or 40 feet long), seal the box, move the box over the world transportation network (ships, railroads, and trucks), and then un-pack the box at the far end. Among other things, this system cuts down on shrinkage from theft.

The business side is more complicated. Somebody had to design ships that could carry boxes more efficiently. Somebody had to persuade ports to install new container-handling systems. Somebody had to tell a lot of dock workers that their services were no longer needed.

In the end, most of the lower costs flowed through to shippers rather than the companies offering shipping services, That's a good thing.

Levinson's book covers this revolution from several angles. On the down-side, there is no central heart to the book; the closest he comes is following the career of Malcom McLean, although even that narrative thread is interrupted often. On the up-side, the book is meticulously sourced, with many references to original documents from ports in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area.
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on March 18, 2014
You'd think that a book about the development of the ubiquitous shipping containers stacked everywhere would be boring. Far from it. This volume traces the huge impact that standardization produced on everything from the longshoremen's unions to just-in-time manufacturing to huge reductions in shipping costs.

The author makes a fine argument that the changes surrounding the shipping container include: (1) the development of a limited number of huge ports in sometimes peculiar locations with the side effect of destroying historic ports such as NYC, (2) shipping of unfathomable volumes of manufactured items that is So fast that production can now move almost immediately from one location to another to take advantage of local wage rates, (3) deliveries can now be scheduled even for overseas shipments allowing for lower inventories and higher profits, (4) ships that can operate with perhaps 10% or less of the crew previously required, (5) offloading takes hours instead of days or weeks.

If you've a technical or business bent, this is a terrific read. There's only one chapter where he gets bogged down in trying to explain why he lacked data on the increase in shipping volume. Skip that and you'll find this book full of "ah ha!" moments as you learn how the global economy came to be.
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on July 6, 2014
I found 'The Box' was absolutely fascinating. The story of the shipping container may have been largely ignored, but it explains so much about the onset of globalisation in late 20th century.

Until the mid 1960s, ocean freight was transported in breakbulk ships; the cargo manually jammed into the ships' holds by teams of longshoremen. The process was laborious and time consuming. Major port cities like New York and London were structured around their docks, with factories near their ports to minimise the costs involved with the multiple handling and warehousing involved in transporting goods.

Then, a few pioneers started trying to move freight in containers. Within a few short decades, containers revolutionised world trade. Containers of goods could be seamlessly moved from a factory, between trucks, trains, and ships to customers. Where once it may have taken months to ship a product from the US to Europe, it can now take less than a week. Global trade skyrocketed!

Nobody predicted the enormous impact that containers were to have on the global economy. Once, firms concentrated their factories in one location to minimise transport costs. With the advent of fast, cheap and reliable container shipping, component manufacture was farmed out around the world to the cheapest supplier. The structures of port cities changed drastically, with whole longshore communities being destroyed, and factories moving to where land was cheap. Of course, countries in Asia soon became major manufacturing powers.
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on May 2, 2014
If you are the least bit interested in the evolution of the global economy and the factors involving container shipping that influenced it, look no further than The Box. Well written with plenty of statistics (where available), anecdotal details of the rise and fall and rise again of global shipping companies, this book held my attention the whole way and left me wanting more. It piqued my interest to see those container ports and learn more about container ships. It is most amazing how the system is today fairly seamless between ships, ports, railways and trucks - it wasn't always that way. Malcom McLean and other big players in the game brought this about - they were willing to take huge risks over and over to see their dream fulfilled - and as I live close to McLean VA, I now know why that town might be named after him. Read this book, it will expand your horizons and give new meaning to your place in the world as a consumer.
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on November 28, 2014
It is difficult to imagine that a book on containers could make interesting reading. This book shows what a profound influence the humble container has had on our lives. The Asian tigers owe their success in large measure to container shipping. The longshoreman has disappeared from the scene. I remember in the mid seventies one day my father came back from his office with an interesting and tragic tale. That day one of the coolies unloading a ship in the Calcutta docks slipped from the gangplank and fell into the water between the ship and cement pier. Usually a gentle current make the ship swing to and fro gently hitting the pier and with perfect timing as the coolie fell into the sea the ship crushed him to death against the cement pier. Today such an event would not be possible. The book also tells of the profound social consequences. When ever there is massive change there are winners and losers but for sure the world has benefitted greatly.
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on October 20, 2013
There is a type of history book that has as it's premise how the seemingly insignificant was actually enormously influential. The Box is such a book, and I find the genre, and this example of it, enormously pleasant reading. Besides the obvious topic of shipping containers, The Box provides insights into labor relations, regulation, good and bad business management, and globalization. Among the most surprising points to me were the speed at which changes in shipping occurred and the lack of data to drive decision making. What does it cost to ship x amount of freight from here to there? With real rates versus actual rates, tariffs, insurance, and fees it wasn't and isn't an answerable question, at least not as general observations. The book is thorough, well-written, and engaging in part by focusing on Malcom MacLean, the "inventor" of containerized shipping. It would greatly benefit with illustrations: of different container designs, of hook and door assemblies (about which much is written), and, of course, of container ships and their holds. Also, my ebook had a large number of inexcusable errors, clearly showing a lack of proof reading or editing. But these quibbles aside, The Box is enjoyable and likely to alter how you think of the impact of innovation on business and society.
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on December 26, 2014
Anyone who does business in China, import / export, or is just curious about something that we take for granted every day - this book is for you.
The author chronicles the development of the coastal shipping and freight companies over time - particularly in the 20th century. It was interesting to learn about the past history of the shipping industry and its unions, employees and innovations.

While the book is mostly a quick read, it does manage to repeat itself a few times and could stand to be about 100 pages shorter. At least it's organized in such a way that you can skip sections if they do not interest you.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical non-fiction, 20th century history, or is interested in maritime technology / shipping and freight technology.
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