Siddharth's Reviews > The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
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 to be standardized and why they make sense beyond a given scale. It refers to a lot of incidents that proved to be rather important for the adoption of containers: the aftermath of the second World War, the Vietnam war, dockworkers unions across the world, shipping companies, freight forwarders, railroad operators, trucking companies. It's hard to think of anyone from the factory right up to the end consumer that this book doesn't touch or talk about.
Perhaps the most stunning thing throughout the book is the consistent resistance that container shipping had from every single person involved in the old process: unions didn't like container shipping, ports didn't like containers, governments weren't really convinced and were far too slow to adopt or create the specifications for standardized containers. Undoubtedly, a significant percentage of the time, most of the resistance ends in a placid acceptance and a sudden interest in getting deeply involved in the process of container shipping (in the form of huge government investment in modernising ports, subsidising the building of containes and container ships, negotiating contracts with shipping carriers that promise them space and cargo at ports)
There is one caveat though: The book is long, and it's not very coherent, the author chose to tell the story of how containers took over global shipping not as a timeline starting from non-container shipping (break-bulk) to container shipping, and rather, as a story of incidents which overlap in time, but are mostly independent in place and time of occurence. That makes the book confusing to read because there are several references to what happened in 1967 and it gets harder and harder to understand in the first half of the book until it all comes together in the second half of the book. That is my only gripe with the book.
Nevertheless, it's an incredibly informative book about a fairly simple concept's hard journey from being an idea to the finished product that now powers all global commercial shipping.