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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

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,309 ratings  ·  181 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 January 1st 2006)
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Traffic by Tom VanderbiltThe Works by Kate AscherThe Box by Marc LevinsonThe Big Necessity by Rose GeorgeInfrastructure by Brian Hayes
Underpinnings
3rd out of 19 books — 23 voters
The Cost of Hope by Amanda   BennettDeng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. VogelPoor Economics by Abhijit V. BanerjeeGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondEinstein by Walter Isaacson
The Bill Gates Booklist
71st out of 144 books — 43 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
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
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
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
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
DoctorM
Marc Levinson's "The Box" is a fine introduction to the coming of containerization--- a basic enough development (a metal box, something with no moving parts and no new technology) that up-ended the maritime industry and whose introduction shifted global trade flows, made and broke port towns, and changed the way the global economy viewed ocean transport. Levinson explores the way the standardized shipping container came to dominate ocean transport and gives the reader whose memories of Econ 101 ...more
Andy
Fantastic history of something you wouldn't realize deserves a history. Traces the introduction of standardized containers into the modern shipping industry and examines its impact on the shipping industry itself (obviously), other transportation industries, manufacturing, labor unions, and social dynamics of waterfront cities. Enthusiastic without being too preachy, very insightful and thought-provoking, and the one accusation that could be leveled is that occasionally (just occasionally) it is ...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
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
Vincent Tan
It's no exaggeration too call the shipping container one of the most profound developments of the second half of the 20th century. Without this metal box, the explosion of global trade would not have been possible and the rapid growth seen in so much of the developing world would simply not have happened. This is the fascinating story of how your clothes and cars reach you.
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
Emmanuel
Really good book. It explain how a trivial innovation changed the way the world transport cargo, reducing the price of transportation to almost nil. This peculiar innovation made possible globalization and the international value chain.
Vivian
"The Box" gives the behind-the-scenes story of the shipping container, and how it become the catalyst for a complete overhaul of the global transportation industry, affecting railroads, ports, trucks and dockyard workers as well as manufacturing companies, and the cities that hosted all of them. I thought it was appropriate to understand the container history, given that all my household belongings are currently packed in a container, loaded on a transatlantic ship, and racing to the U.S. from E ...more
K-2052
Jan 24, 2012 K-2052 added it
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
Athan Tolis
Much as this is predominantly a business book, full of figures and statistics, it's also the gripping tale of a man's vision and ambition, a history book, perhaps even a sociology book. It's often a bit too detailed. There's little chance I'll remember any of the copious data, and the story would have been just as compelling without it, but I guess it was such hard work collecting it (there is no single source for shipping data) that the author did not have the heart to shove it into an appendix ...more
Martin Chambers
You might think that a book about the shipping container would be pretty dull - what an uninspiring thing to write about. But the container probably brought a bigger change to international trade than the demise of sail at the advent of motorised ships. That it now seems such an obvious way to shift cargo simply underlines how effective it has become.

In the spirit of books like 'Cod', or 'Salt' or 'Longitude' Marc Levinson explains a good part of why we live in the world we currently do. If the
...more
Bill Brown
It's an excellent dive into one of those innovations upon which our entire global economy depends. The author does a great job of covering the problem the container solved, its evolution over time, the challenges it faced, and its current ubiquity. It is well-researched and well-written—I'm not sure there's much more to be said, except as the players change and the container further evolves. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in business, history, or business history.

That said, I do ha
...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 em
...more
Adam Wiggins
If you enjoy lengthy descriptions of port authority politics, different types of cranes, the tradeoff of steel vs aluminum in load-bearing structures, or bay depth in the world's major port cities, then this book is for you.

More seriously, this is a well-written and well-researched book about one of the major economic forces of the 20th century: container shipping.

In "breakbulk" shipping, longshoremen manually haul around bags of coffee beans and barrels of salted fish. In containerized shippin
...more
Dan
Jan 14, 2015 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2015
I think there are two ways to write a good history book:

- Take a well-covered topic and come up with a compelling new narrative or explanation.
- Delve deeply into an area that has been neglected.

This is clearly in the mold of the latter, which is perhaps less exciting on the surface. But Levinson is highly, highly convincing about the significance of the container in modern history. This is a highly readable, well-argued narrative that blends economic insights and historical research. It is amon
...more
Alistair
Given the topic of the book, shipping containers, one could forgive the author if the book was tedious. However, the opposite is the case. This is a very well-written book looking at the impact the shipping container had on cities, workers and the economies of countries.

Although at times confusing (so many people involved who shared the same name) and at times tedious (particularly the chapter on the development of the international standard), Marc tells the story very well. He highlights the li
...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
Vishaka Datta
The book deserves more than five stars. Considering that the topic being tackled is a rather unglamorous one - the shipping container - Marc Levinson weaves an exhilarating story of the birth of container shipping, starting with the sailing of the first container ship in 1956. Upon reading the book, it leads you to wonder - how many innovations are out there that hide in plain sight, and yet, utterly and irreversibly transformed our world? The container certainly qualifies.

The book is an effortl
...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.
Gabriel Law
Containers are an afterthought, yet they alter fate of the whole cities and their millions of citizen more deeply than perhaps anything else. Perhaps the author spent a bit too much time in the labor history side of the story -- personally those are "good to know" kind of tidbits. In contrast, I would have loved to learn more about all the major container ports around the world, as well as how their raise helped shape the story of globalization. Interestingly, in the very last paragraph of the b ...more
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.
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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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