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Summary

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried 58 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 consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about.

Published on the 50th anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible.

But the container didn't just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology. It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean's success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container's potential.

Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world's workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.

©2006, 2007 Princeton University Press (P)2014 Marc Levinson

What listeners say about The Box

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How the modern world works

I spotted this after Alain de Botton name checked it as a book that would explain how the modern world got the way it is. Levinson manages to tell the story of how the invention of the container lead, through a mixture of overwhelming economic advantage and pure chance, to the rise of countries like China as industrial super-powers, to the hollowing out of small scale manufacturing from our towns and to the death of ancient ports like London. This could all be a bit dry but Levinson has a gift for story telling and keeps his narrative cracking along by letting the key characters in the development of containerisation carry the story. So we get Malcom McLean developing his trucking business during the depression; sitting in a queue at the docks and wondering how the process of transfer could be speeded up. McLean goes on to develop containerisation on roads and then on sea through a mixture of innovation and attention to detail while great ports make massive gambles on outfitting themselves for the emerging technology before near neighbours can get in first. A dominoe effect of economic and geographical drivers then leads us to a world in which it's cheaper to make everything from paper plates to i-pods in China and then ship them half the way around the world than it is to manufacture them near to consumers and save on transport costs. If you're interested in how the world works; this book is a must.

4 people found this helpful

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The Box - The main part and structure of shipping

In this book the details, history, expectations and change. Is explained in a social and historical lens.

The book is well written, extensive and focuses on several subjects like: buiness, economy, countries, occupations in ports and ships among other things.

Not sure at this point if it was my focus, the books repetition or kind of bland parts where I lost the scope and structure of what Levinson was trying to show.

But mant parts of the book felt repetitive and didn’t give me as much as the earlier parts of the book and the summaries. Felt a bit drawn out at times.

So for me the book gets 3 stars for story and is connected to my a bit lacking experience. With a overall very good book. That covers a relatively unknown subject in our connected world.

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Does not do what it says on the tin

Only in the last of its 16 chapters does the term 'global supply chain' appear and we finally get some discussion of the impact of containers on the nature of distributed manufacturing and just in time practices that set us up for the problem we are currently having with the supply of goods. This chapter is quite short and a rather perfunctory attempt to justify this book's tag line.

This book is mostly a business history of ports and shipping in the 20th century with an emphasis on the United States. Ironically the earlier chapters that cover the social history of ports and docks in the early part of the century, decades before the container, are the most interesting. The bulk of the book largely discusses the business of running a container line covering route developments, tariffs, buyouts and such. It's dreary stuff. Worst of all however is the discussion of the container's design. For example there is a lengthy section about the development of the crane coupling points on the top of every container.

The narrator does a valiant job not sounding bored but there's not much he can do with the material.

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Very detailed explanation of the cntr history

Was good to listen to with many interesting facts about the cntr, it's makers and world economy history. Although with ca. 12 hrs pretty long.

Anyhow, I liked it.

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  • zombie64
  • 15-07-14

Fascinating Topic sometimes lost in minutiae

What did you love best about The Box?

The author did the best he could with a very technical topic. He started quite strong, with images of how society before the container moved goods and what waterfront life looked like. But throughout the middle of the book he spent too much time on the legal wranglings of the unions and various commercial and municipal entities and the unstandardized box sizes, etc. Although the author seemed to lose sight of his own story at times, he would always come back to it because it was anchored around the lives of a few key individuals, especially that of Malcolm McLean, the "father" of container shipping. The narration was unproblematic, but not stellar. For a topic such as this, I wouldn't expect it to be.

What did you like best about this story?

This book definitely communicated the monumental changes that container shipping brought about, and also made us understand that container shipping was not an overnight success, but evolved over time through the perseverance of pioneering individuals who had a vision of its power to streamline society.

What three words best describe Adam Lofbomm’s voice?

Normal, non-irritating, radio.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No.

Any additional comments?

This was a great book with a respectable narration.

6 people found this helpful

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  • -E
  • 23-07-14

Outstanding!

Any additional comments?

Marc Levinson finally wrote the book that was long-overdue to be written. Professors often tell students that the shipping container revolutionized business platform around the world, but until now, they weren't been able to explain exactly *how* this came about. Before shipping standardization, international trade was not much to speak of by comparison since loading and unloading merchant ships with non-standardized items such as baskets, barrels, cages, bags, etc. would take several days and many bodies. The vision and implementation was driven by entrepreneurs like Malcom McLean, among others. The idea was to be able to take a container off of a truck or rail car, effortlessly place it onto a ship, quickly remove it from the ship and place it onto another truck or rail car (intermodal freight transport). Along the way, McLean and his competitors fought against protectionism from the railroads, trade unions and various governments, but ultimately, the demand for standardization became strongest during the Vietnam War as the US government desperately sought a more efficient means to transport goods.

The Box is both exciting and very well-written. Anyone remotely interested in international trade, business, logistics or related fields should consider The Box a must-read!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Steven
  • 09-11-18

Thinking outside 'The Box'

If the book were 30-50% shorter, it might have received higher ratings from me. Summation: Economy's of scale make sense. Global transportation, infrastructure and logistics require government subsidies and with that come government control and restrictions. You could fast forward to the last 6 minutes of the book to garner 80% of the knowledge in the book.

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  • John
  • 02-06-14

Disappointing

I bought this audiobook with high hopes after I saw that it got pretty good reviews and because I am always interested in a good business/economics story. I was disappointed. The story is straightforward and fairly dry. This felt stretched as a book and would have been a better long magazine article. In addition, the narrator is pretty flat. This one was a bit of a slog to get through.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Holland
  • 09-06-14

A portrait of disruptive innovation.

Any additional comments?

What kind of cutting edge technology allowed the world to collapse in size within a generation? It’s hiding in plain sight in every rail-yard and shipping port in the world- the humble shipping container. This isn’t so much a book about the transportation industry but rather a surprising look into a pivot point in globalization. The shipping container (or box) annihilated whole segments of the economy that were constructed around the inefficiency of break-bulk shipping and the sheer armies of labor required to transport goods via ship prior to this simple concept.If you enjoy economics and the nature of trade give this a listen!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-12-21

was OK

was OK hard to follow at times but got through it but little more research and story probably could've helped in my opinion

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  • Kevin Robert Johnson
  • 05-12-21

very detailed

while some of the content was good to learn about the overall transformation of the shipping world over the last 70 years, there were long sections that felt like repeated trivia before boom 1980s...

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  • GG
  • 15-02-21

Compelling

Well researched and argued story. Refreshingly surprising. Marc Levinson has done a great job of making a story out of a dull box.

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  • Gj3
  • 09-10-20

This is a great story. I'm a last mile driver.

this is a great story. I'm a last mile, small truck, route driver or whatever people call it haha I am an Independent Contractor for delivery. As soon as I found out about this book I had to listen to it while I ran my route. There is a lot of info on how the shipping container changed a lot of things around the world. This is a great story.

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  • Frank Carlos
  • 14-07-20

I enjoyed from beginning to end!

I enjoyed from beginning to end! It is an excellent book to recommend to any everyone.