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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

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  4,243 ratings  ·  434 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 consequenc

Kindle Edition, 531 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Princeton University Press (first published April 9th 2006)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Start your review of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
Containerisation is globalisation. Nine ways in which shipping has changed the world.

1. All ships, trains, trailers and cranes for freight are built to the exact same standards. On a ship the tolerance on the rails that lock the containers in place is 1/4". It doesn't matter if it is a refrigerated container, a double-doors one or any of the 16 types of container, all are built to the same external and weight bearing parameters. It doesn't matter if it is in Egypt, Sydney or Cape Town, all the p
Bryan Alkire
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book. This is the sort of nonfiction I really enjoy. I get a readable book about a topic I known virtually nothing about and get to learn something. In this case, I got to learn all about the modern shipping industry through the revolution of the shipping container. The book is well balanced, covering the tech, business and human sides of the paradigm shift. The book can be a bit repetitive at the start of chapters, but that’s a minor flaw. I recommend this one for a good introduction to th ...more
Nick Black
May 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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 forth. ...more
Oct 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 29, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: real-world
Forget about the internet, the container is what has made us a global village. At times fascinating and other times dryer than the hills of California this book looks at transportation evenly and thoroughly. My biggest complaint about this book is its total lack of diagrams, photos, maps, etc.. There are a few tables of data and that's it. Not even a picture of Malcom McLean, the guy who made the container a reality. The interesting thing about this subject is that no one could accurately predic ...more
Phil Gross
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Innovation with much more far-reaching implications than you might think at first: the shipping container. Perhaps even more than on the box itself, this is a book about ports adapting and new ships.

But all in all too dull and repetitive; tonnages, millions of dollars investment, acres; the numbers keep on coming. Also sorely lacks visuals, first graph is at page 223. Why not some drawings on how new boxes are designed, with applications for cranes (similar to the cover). Now it is hard with al
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
Colin Wright
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018

90 percent of what we use, wear and eat is carried by ships. Anything you name can be found inside these boxes. It’s amazing to see how they make the world smaller but the world economy bigger.

3.6 stars. It’d be great to see photos included. For people who do not work in this industry, they would have a hard time to visualize.
Miguel Eduardo
Topic is really interesting. He could have told the story in half the pages though. Lots of repetition!
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A seriously boring book with subject matter that would be more fascinating as a long form blog article.

Instead this book reads like a dull academic treatment.
Sajith Kumar
The period after the death of Soviet Union in the early 1990s is taken to be the time globalization took birth. Though historians would propose the early 19th century in the aftermath of Napoleonic wars, or even the late 16th century after the settling of the New World as the contenders to the start of globalization, there is no denying that the last decade of the last century saw tremendous improvement in international trade. Whereas raw materials came in one direction and end products travelle ...more
Josh Friedlander
In the introduction the author recalls telling people he was writing a history of shipping containers only to be met with stunned silence. What more boring topic is imaginable? But since the book came out, containers are in; in art, architecture, history, and even computer programming. Levinson argues that the container's importance as catalyst of globalisation may have shaped the modern economic landscape more than any other factor, although it's hard to corroborate - the book is intentionally ...more

This is a great book! I started reading this book because I realized how much shipping has changed the things that one has access to, it was also part of the book recommendations on one of the Ezra Klein Show podcast episodes. I don't remember who recommended this book anymore or in what context, though! I am glad I read it nonetheless.

First, a brief word about the good stuff. This is a comprehensive and very very detailed account of how containers started, who started using them, how they came

William Bentrim
The Box by Marc Levinson

The box is the ubiquitous metal container that is seen at loading docks, on the back of semi-trucks, at harbors and wherever goods are transported. According to Levinson, the container changed the worlds economy.

Surprisingly this non-fiction book was more interesting than I expected. The introduction of shipping goods by containers revolutionized international shipping. It changed the geographic aspects of commerce due to the location of ports acceptable to container shi
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's decent book capturing a lot of details about shipping, however, there are very few business lessons that you can take away. As a read it is super dry and dull, lacks metaphors or stories. It feels like a PhD dissertation on Shipping. I was disappointed that the author doesn't write about how modularization (containerization) made a difference to people's lives, perhaps that's not the point of the book.
Deepak Gulati
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned, book-club
A lot of potential but marred by some very dry writing. And a book like this could've really done with more illustrations, pictures, graphs and tables.
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had a great pace, a very interesting read.
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You might think that the Cliffs Notes summary of The Box would be enough. Yes, the shipping container revolutionized the global economy by almost eliminating considerations of shipping cost and geographic proximity in the manufacturing supply chain. This development allowed factories to locate essentially anywhere - not just near transportation hubs - and so radically reshaped longstanding trade patterns and practices. It’s not too extreme to say that the shipping container played an oversized r ...more
Fred Forbes
You probably never thought much about it, I would bet. Me neither. You know, those big, ugly metal boxes - take them off the ship with specialized cranes, bolt them to a truck or stack them two high on a flat bed train car and get them where they are going. And vice versa. What could be more obvious that needing a standard to build to so all the moving and structural parts function together? Well, it may be common sense in hindsight but to the longshoremen on the piers of New York who used to lo ...more
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is really much more of a historical account of different business strategies than anything to do with the engineering of the shipping container and surrounding infrastructure. The first chapter and illustration of the book cover led me to believe that this book would be more turned towards technical detail. Instead it's more of an exhaustive blow-by-blow account of 40 years of business dealings starting in the early 60s until the late 70s.
There was a painful lack of diagrams. Bizarrely
would have been better as a long Atlantic/NYer article. Only read if you're really into transportation and logistics.
Jacek Bartczak
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1) Book describes many tactics that happened in the middle of the XIX century - most of them are common today (like for instance "total cost of X". Hunting for new, unique and mind-blowing tips isn't the only way of boosting sales performance. Some things which worked in 1960 still work in 2020.

2) Chapters about the shipping industry in 1950 weren't much different than books which describe what happened in Airbnb / Uber in 201X - our generation is not such unique, nor are companies where we work
Jack Gardner
Adventure in Shipping

Fascinating story of the vision and perseverance of one entrepreneur revolutionizing a disorganized, incompatible shipping hodgepodge into global dominance. In the process, changing labor regulations, ship designs, relocating port destinations, and lowering product costs around the world.

Economic globalization of trade is founded on the marriage of computer tracking capabilities and the standardization of shipping containers and handling facilities from trucks to railroads t
Jul 20, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
2.7 rounded up to 3. I skimmed a ton.

The subject was fascinating. How container shipping changed freight and helped create globalization. The problem was that the writing became too pedantic. He covered fifty years of labor unrest, the constant refitting of the different ports fighting for the new business, the refitting of the boats and the changing shipping centers. I just got bogged down. The discussions about the need to standardize the dimensions of the box were interesting.

Levinson really
Kuldeep Dhankar
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The modern world is a fantastically complex system. So many levers are involved in shifting the world that it is impossible to make sense of how the modern world came into being. This book is the history on one such lever : this shipping container. It chronically in excellent prose the human cost and the shifting stances of business & state. No one really knew how to deal with the container and it changed the world at very profound levels.

An absolute must read
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Are you spending this season bundling up against the chill or enjoying summery southern hemisphere vibes (in which case we are...
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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” 1 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.” 1 likes
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