The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
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The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  882 ratings  ·  133 reviews
In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight 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 conseque...more
Hardcover, 376 pages
Published April 9th 2006 by Princeton University Press (first published 2006)
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Nick Black
Jun 11, 2012 Nick Black rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Nick by: Matt Travers
lots of fun. Malacca-Max will likely be my favorite new word for a few weeks. my big question after reading this: what's keeping someone, say me, from building nuclear-powered megabulk carriers of truly tremendous draft, using them as motherships, driving them outside of economic exclusion zones to avoid all the hogwash nonsense nuclear regulation, and linking up with fast oil-burners for final portside delivery? you don't want cranes on your oilburners due to weight imbalance problems, but you'...more
Osamah
We all take shipping containers for granted. We all know what they are and what purpose they serve, but did you ever stop to ponder the role they play in international commerce or how they came about to be the standard method of shipping in the world? My family has been in the shipping business since the 1890 and the shipping container is something I constantly heard my father talk about since my earliest childhood: "cost per container", "offloading containers", "trucks and trailers", and so for...more
Mick
The history of the humble shipping container may at first seem an odd subject for an entire book, until you consider its ubiquity and importance to the global economy. The triumph of containerization has truly changed the world, creating winners and losers. Marc Levinson's The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger charts the long, stilted development of an international standard for shipping containers and the effects this has had on economies, socie...more
Paul Brannan
Let’s be honest, the evolution of shipping containers isn’t the first thing that springs to mind for a reading list recommendation.

You might struggle to believe that interest could be sustained on the topic at article length much less for an entire book – and you’d be dead wrong.

The hum-drum box unleashed a wave of disruption that smashed union power, consigned thousands of workers to the scrapheap, devastated established city ports, uplifted backwater areas and, as an unforeseen consequence, ul...more
Trena
This book traces various aspects of the development of the shipping container and explains how it revolutionized the costs of shipping and facilitated the global economy. It is full of interesting characters and interesting information, from Malcom McLean, who built up a trucking empire and traded it all in for a gamble on container shipping to details about the unbelievably inefficient way in which ships were loaded and unloaded before the advent of the container. The book covers the business,...more
Ray
Interesting focus on an underappreciated but interesting subject. Stylistically, some of the language is a bit clunky at times--more of an occasional impression I had versus an overriding flaw. I would say that a reader has to have a fairly high level of interest in this topic in order to read it (even though its a short book) because the 30 second summary is probably sufficient for most everyone else. Given Levinson's decision to organize the chapters by a certain aspect of containerization's r...more
Ken Erickson
One of the best most well written historical economics books I've ever read. This is a must read for anyone interested in how products/processes are adopted in-mass.The shipping container is one of few big changes of the modern age to have completed its run.

Its adoption, form, technology and methods haven't changed much since the 80s. All these attributes combine to make the shipping container a perfect study case for understanding how things go from idea to mass adoption. This inspired more th...more
Tony Noland
What used to take a hundred men six days can now be done by five men in ten hours. What used to cost so much that it would make or break an enterprise is now so cheap that it barely registers. Singapore and Sydney used to be a long way from New York or Newcastle, but now they're all right next door to each other.

The interconnected economy of the modern world is founded on the ubiquitous shipping container. This book tells the fascinating story of just how many times this method of moving cargo h...more
Adam Lofbomm
Click here for the audiobook of The BOX.

I recently narrated and produced this intriguing and enlightening title about a seemingly pedestrian topic- the history of the shipping container.

Former Economist Magazine editor, Marc Levinson has traced the development of container shipping from its inception in the 1950's to the highly-developed, global backbone of trade that it is today in his book, The BOX. Not unlike Jared Diamond's, Germs Guns and Steel, Levinson tells the story of globalism's eme...more
Oward Bodie
Marc Levinson took on a mostly-ignored artifact of modern life (the shipping container) in order to talk about something much bigger (globalization).

In the mid-1950's, the shipping container was introduced. As Levinson adroitly argues, the economic geography of the world was dramatically changed. Principally, the economic benefit of "containerization" shifted the global economic pole slowly, but confidently, away from the American-European nexus and toward the Asia-Pacific. Simply put, the rise...more
Colin Wright
This book, for me, had the same impact as taking art history classes in school. That is to say the information alone was fascinating and worthy of attention, but the overarching storyline also helped tie together disparate pieces of history to form a more cohesive whole. I love when that happens.

At times a little clunky and drowsiness-inducing (especially when there are pages and pages of number and data, which made me feel confident in the author's knowledge, but which I could have easily check...more
Gabe
I have been a fan of logistics since my time in college. It was something that appealed to me. So many small details go into simple things that we take for granted. I have dealt with all types of products and it is truly amazing to see how an idea finds a way into a store and ultimately into the hands of a consumer. I was very intrigued to read a book that illustrated how all this came about.

Let me start by saying that this prologue is one of the best I have ever read. It makes a very specializ...more
André Spiegel
Fascinating discovery of a piece of infrastructure of the modern world that I had never been aware of. A stunning tale of entrepreneurship as well.
Ben
A history of the tremendous impact of the shipping container. Complicates traditional notions of how transformations in political-economy occur. 1- that technological innovation sparks change, 2. that these shits are the result of moments of crisis. Interesting having just read Michael Zakim's Ready-Made Democracy. Zakim - telling the story of the transition from homespun to ready-made in the early 19th century, similarly complicates the narrative of the industrial revolution. It was not the sew...more
Hunterwalk
would have been better as a long Atlantic/NYer article. Only read if you're really into transportation and logistics.
Steve Sarrica
The story of the shipping container and how it changed the world. Malcom McLean, the man who did more to change the shipping industry into the container industry, was a fascinating character. The endless details about longshoreman labor agreements were somewhat less fascinating. I would have liked more details about the actual engineering of the containers and the alternate uses being found for surplus containers. Given that we all enjoy the benefits of the efficiencies of the switch to shipping...more
Miguel Eduardo
Topic is really interesting. He could have told the story in half the pages though. Lots of repetition!
Phil Gross
A little dry in parts, but the basic subject matter is fascinating.

One of the oldest, largest, and most important parts of the global economy, the shipment of goods, transformed completely in only a couple of decades. Huge ports like New York collapsed suddenly, losing tens of thousands of jobs, as all shipping moved across the river to the drained swamp of Elizabeth, NJ. Economies transformed, as moving goods went from one of the largest costs to nearly free, enabling huge supply chains and the...more
biafra
Did what it was supposed to do and piqued my interest in a subject that might seem boring at first pass: the history of container shipping. The book does an excellent job of giving a thorough background of the different forces at play leading to Malcolm McLean's decision to start container shipping while at Pan-Atlantic. Further bonus points for the author not overstating the impacts of container shipping and sticking to the numbers to make his case while pointing out areas where there is insuff...more
Aaron Arnold
In economic theory, standardization goes hand in hand with division of labor; Adam Smith's pin factory wouldn't have worked nearly so well without a single pin size. Examples of useful standards are everywhere: the metric system, TCP/IP packets, DIN slots, shoe sizes... some are driven by physical needs, others are arbitrary, but when they were decided, all created winners and losers. Few international standards have created more winners and losers than the shipping container, one of the most im...more
Chris
"The Box" is interesting for many reasons. First, is the fact that the book's subject, the shipping container, catalyzed the downward spiral of transportation costs that allowed for the great increase in international trade that came to define the latter part of the 21st century. While this was the initial draw for me, it may be the least interesting aspect of the book.

"The Box," at its core, is not about the shipping container's role in decreasing shipping costs (though that's necessarily a par...more
Pete Welter
Why on earth would anybody want to read a history of shipping containers? It's an appropriate question, and was asked of me by just about everybody who saw me reading this book. And I must admit, there were times when I asked that question of myself. However, given that it was recommended by Daniel Yergin in The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World as an example of economic disruption, I decided to stick it out.

And overall, I'm glad I did. For many of us from the tech bu...more
Stephen
It’s not every day an invention completely revolutionizes its industry, let alone the world. And yet that’s what the shipping container, a mere box, did. Within a few years’ time, it rose from one ambitious entrepreneur’s scheme for expediting freight shipments into the global standards, one which completely replaced methods of shipping which had endured for thousands of years. Gone were the huge numbers of longshoremen required to pack and unpack hundreds of pallets per ship, and the 'inventory...more
Ann
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 s...more
Jill
The Box tries to do many things at once - describing how the advent of the shipping container changed trade flows, transformed cities from New York City to Felixstowe to Long Beach and Oakland, and changed the nature of the livelihood of dockworkers. The Box probably fares best on the latter two fronts. Its account of the decline of NY's ports as the Port Authority of NY shifted its operations towards Elizabeth and Newark, how it led to a hollowing out of manufacturing operations and the subsequ...more
Jason Hamilton
The Box is a non-fiction book that tells of the fascinating history of the shipping container. It covers the slow shipping industry following World War II that allowed an outside trucker magnate access. Those outsider ideas helped revolutionize the industry within the regulated confines of the shipping industry. The book goes through political and commercial dealings, dealing with longshoreman unions, and standardization on container dimensions. Finally, it concludes with a chapter on globalizat...more
Tirath
A book on the history of what long distance/ ocean shipping used to be, and how it changed.
Also covers the story of the first shipping magnate - Malcom McLean.
Very amusing how his company barely ever made enough money, and how the container shipping revolution became more of an enabler for other industries than profitable in its own right.

Japan in the 60s, the US west coast in the 60s, the evolution and destruction of port cities - Rotterdam, New York, Singapore.
Potentially the 1st LBO ever, RJR...more
David West
Fascinating look at what a significant impact container shipping has had on our world today! From manufacturing being outsourced from the US to other countries, to the pervasiveness and cheapness of electronics from Japan, Korea, China. And it's not just finished goods traveling by container - the book estimates that the majority of the contents of containers passing through the major ports consist of material that in the middle of the manufacturing process, not at the end. Another surprising im...more
Barrett
A book about the shipping container??! Dry but great. Containerization has certainly changed the world. Of note: the role of unionized shipyard workers in trying to prevent this evolution; the role of the Vietnam War in containerization; the (for profit) politics involved in standardizing container dimensions; and the volatility of the global container shipping industry. Interesting stuff all round.
Marc Brodeur
The story of the container is a pretty great economic history story. The author organized it more by parts of the story rather than strictly chronological, which was disorienting at times. It also had some technical parts that would be more interesting to you if you were more of an engineer.

Most people would probably like it better as a long-form article. Engineer types will like it as it is. It's definitely worth a skim
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“By far the biggest expense in this process was shifting the cargo from land transport to ship at the port of departure and moving it back to truck” 0 likes
“In 1961, before the container was in international use, ocean freight costs alone accounted for 12 percent of the value of U.S. exports and 10 percent of the value of U.S. imports.” 0 likes
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