Jen's Reviews > Uncommon Carriers

Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
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Mar 02, 11

Read from December 31, 2010 to March 01, 2011

I borrowed this book from my dad because one of my professors had handed out John McPhee's essay "Out in the Sort," which details the operations of the UPS sorting facility in Louisville and the people who work there (and is included in this compilation), and I had really enjoyed it.

If there was a way to divide this review, I'd give the overall content three stars but the depth of reporting and in-depth background knowledge on each subject four. Some essays just left me confused (in the one in which he attends a ship-handling school in Europe, I never got a good grasp of the size of the model ships or from where the captains were piloting them). Others stretched the limits of how much literary digression I could take (in fact, the essay about tracing Henry David Thoreau's trip by canoe up the Merrimack River is a study in digressions).

But then there were solidly entertaining pieces, like "A Fleet of One," about long-haul trucker Don Ainsworth, who has a penchant for boots made out of every reptile and amphibian to walk this earth. I really enjoyed re-reading "Out in the Sort" again, too. And the pieces about a tugboat trolling up and down the Illinois River and a coal train criss-crossing the country gave me a rare glimpse into parts of the workforce I never, ever would have known existed.

In the end, I very much enjoyed reading about the transportation industry from several different angles, which was not something I'd expected in picking up this book. A recommended read even for those who aren't into plans, trains, and automobiles — you'll probably learn something!
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