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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Review: The Box

If you do any sailing on San Francisco Bay, you'll see container ships. Giant ships stacked with containers coming in full and leaving empty. (After all, nothing's ever made in America any more) If you've ever wondered how the logistics worked, or how the standard container was designed and evolved, then The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger is the book for you.

What's fascinating for me is that the idea of the container was effectively invented by one man, Malcolm McLean, and he effectively championed and promoted it through his company which he started for the purposes of promoting this idea. The book describes all the implications of this, including how the Vietnam War effectively sold the military on containers, and thereby enabled the trans-Pacific routes that I see today on San Francisco Bay --- container ships would get to Vietnam full, and then have to return to the US empty, and McLean saw that if he made a stop in Japan, he could fill up the ships and make more money.

What's disappointing about the book is that the author could not manage to compute the drop in costs that could be attributed to container adoption. Nevertheless, the entire story is fascinating, and well worth the time. Recommended.
(Thanks to Paul Krugman for recommending the book over at his blog)

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