The Box

  • by Marc Levinson
  • Narrated by Adam Lofbomm
  • 12 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried 58 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 50th 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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

How the modern world works

I spotted this after Alain de Botton name checked it as a book that would explain how the modern world got the way it is. Levinson manages to tell the story of how the invention of the container lead, through a mixture of overwhelming economic advantage and pure chance, to the rise of countries like China as industrial super-powers, to the hollowing out of small scale manufacturing from our towns and to the death of ancient ports like London. This could all be a bit dry but Levinson has a gift for story telling and keeps his narrative cracking along by letting the key characters in the development of containerisation carry the story. So we get Malcom McLean developing his trucking business during the depression; sitting in a queue at the docks and wondering how the process of transfer could be speeded up. McLean goes on to develop containerisation on roads and then on sea through a mixture of innovation and attention to detail while great ports make massive gambles on outfitting themselves for the emerging technology before near neighbours can get in first. A dominoe effect of economic and geographical drivers then leads us to a world in which it's cheaper to make everything from paper plates to i-pods in China and then ship them half the way around the world than it is to manufacture them near to consumers and save on transport costs. If you're interested in how the world works; this book is a must.
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- Jim

Book Details

  • Release Date: 30-01-2014
  • Publisher: Marc Levinson