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The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger Paperback – 27 Jan 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (27 Jan. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691136408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691136400
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


Winner of the 2007 Anderson Medal, Society for Nautical Research
Winner of the 2007 Bronze Medal in Finance/Investment/Economics, Independent Publisher Book Awards
Shortlisted for the 2006 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year
Honorable Mention for the 2006 John Lyman Book Award, Science and Technology category, North American Society for Ocean History
One of Financial Times ( Best Business Books of 2013 (chosen by guest critic Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft)

"One of the most significant, yet least noticed, economic developments of the last few decades [was] the transformation of international shipping. . . . The idea of containerization was simple: to move trailer-size loads of goods seamlessly among trucks, trains and ships, without breaking bulk. . . . Along the way, even the most foresighted people made mistakes and lost millions. . . . [A] classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction."--Virginia Postrel, The New York Times

"Marc Levinson's concern is business history on a grand scale. He tells a moral tale. There are villains ... and there is one larger than life hero: Malcom McLean. . . . Levinson has produced a fascinating exposition of the romance of the steel container. I'll never look at a truck in the same way again."--Howard Davies, The Times (UK)

"Like much of today's international cargo, Marc Levinson's The Box arrives 'just in time.'. . . It is a tribute to the box itself that far-off places matter so much to us now: It has eased trade, sped up delivery, lowered prices and widened the offering of goods everywhere. Not bad for something so simple and self-contained."--Tim W. Ferguson, The Wall Street Journal

"[A] smart, engaging book. . . . Mr. Levinson makes a persuasive case that the container has been woefully underappreciated. . . . [T]he story he tells is that of a classic disruptive technology: the world worked in one fashion before the container came onto the scene, and in a completely different fashion after it took hold."--Joe Nocera, The New York Times

"Mr Levinson. . . . makes a strong case that it was McLean's thinking that led to modern-day containerisation. It altered the economics of shipping and with that the flow of world trade. Without the container, there would be no globalization."--The Economist

"A fascinating new book. . . . [I]t shows vividly how resistance to technological change caused shipping movements to migrate away from the Hudson river to other East Coast ports."--Management Today

"Marc Levinson's The Box . . . illustrates clearly how great risks are taken by entrepreneurs when entrenched interests and government regulators conspire against them. Even after these opponents are dispatched, technological and economic uncertainty plague the entrepreneur just as much as the vaunted 'first-mover advantage' blesses him, perhaps more. The story of the shipping container is the story of the opponents of innovation."--Chris Berg, Institute of Public Affairs Review

"International trade . . . owes its exponential growth to something utterly ordinary and overlooked, says author Marc Levinson: the metal shipping container.... The Box makes a strong argument. . . . Levinson . . . spins yarns of the men who fought to retain the old On the Waterfront ways and of those who made the box ubiquitous."--Michael Arndt, BusinessWeek

"[An] enlightening new history. . . . [The shipping container] was the real-world equivalent of the Internet revolution."--Justin Fox, Fortune

"Marc Levinson's The Box is . . . broad-ranging and . . . readable. It describes not just the amazing course of the container-ship phenomenon but the turmoil of human affairs in its wake."--Bob Simmons, The Seattle Times

"Author and economist Marc Levinson recounts the little-known story of how the humble shipping container has revolutionized world commerce. He tells his tale using just the right blend of hard economic data and human interest. . . . Mr. Levinson's elegant weave of transportation economics, innovation, and geography is economic history at its accessible best."--David K. Hurst, Strategy + Business

"The Box is . . . an engrossing read. . . . The book is well-written, with detailed notes and an index. I found it absorbing and informative from the first page."--Graham Williams, Sydney Morning Herald

"This well-researched and highly readable book about the ubiquitous containers that carry so much of the world's freight will no doubt surprise most readers with its description of the immensity of the impact this simple rectangular steel box has had on global and regional economics, employment, labor relations, and the environment. . . . The Box makes for an excellent primer on innovation, risk taking, and strategic thinking. It's also a thoroughly good read."--Craig B. Grossgart, Taiwan Business Topics

"The ubiquitous shipping container . . . as Mark Levinson's multilayered study shows . . . has transformed the global economy."--The Australian

"By artfully weaving together the nuts and bolts of what happened at which port with the grand sweep of economic history, Levinson has produced a marvelous read for anyone who cares about how the interconnected world economy came to be."--Neil Irwin, Washington Post

"Here's another item we see every day that had a revolutionary effect. The shipping container didn't just rearrange the shipping industry, or make winners of some ports (Seattle and Tacoma among them). It changed the dynamics and economics of where goods are made and shipped to."--Bill Virgin, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Excellent."--J Bradford DeLong, The Edge Financial Daily

"An engrossing read. . . . The book is well written, with detailed notes and an index. I found it absorbing and informative from the first page."--Sydney Morning Herald

"A fascinating history of the shipping container."--Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs

"For sheer originality . . . [this book] by Marc Levinson, is hard to beat. The Box explains how the modern era of globalization was made possible, not by politicians agreeing to cut trade tariffs and quotas, but by the humble shipping container."--David Smith, The Sunday Times (London)

"Ingenious analysis of the phenomenon of containerism."--Stefan Stern, Financial Times

"This is a smoothly written history of the ocean shipping container. . . . Marc Levinson turns it into a fascinating economic history of the last 50 years that helps us to understand globalization and industrial growth in North America."--Harvey Schachter, Globe and Mail

"This is an ingenious analysis of containerization--a process that, Levinson argues, in fact made globalization possible."--Business Voice

"Using a blend of hard economic data and financial projections, combined with human interest, Levinson manages to provide insights into a revolution that changed transport forever and transformed world trade."--Leon Gettler, The Age

"There is much to like about Marc Levinson's recent book, The Box. . . . Levinson uses rich detail, a combination of archival and anecdotal data to build his story, and is constantly moving across levels of observation. . . . And the story of the box is a very good read."--Administrative Science Quarterly

"A lively and entertaining history of the shipping container. . . . The Box does a fine job of demonstrating how exciting the container industry is, and how much economists stand to lose by ignoring it."--William Sjostrom, EH.Net

"The Box is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in understanding the emergence of our contemporary 'globalized' world economy."--Pierre Desrochers, Independent Review

"[T]he insights the book provides make it a worthwhile read for anyone interested in how international trade in goods has evolved over the last 50 years."--Meredith A. Crowley, World Trade Review

"The Box reveals the subject to be interesting and powerful, shedding light on all kinds of issues, from the role of trade unions to the Vietnam War."--NUMAST Telegraph

From the Back Cover

"The continuous decline of ocean shipping costs in the last 40 years is rarely credited for the growth of global trade in contemporary literature. Don't miss this amazing history."--George Stalk, Boston Consulting Group and author of Surviving the China Riptide

"An excellent piece of work."--Bruce Nelson, Dartmouth College

"This book is dynamite. The experts who tell you the transistor and microchips changed the world are off base. The ugly, unglamorous, little-noticed shipping container has changed the world. Without it, there would be no globalization, no Wal-Mart, maybe even no high-tech. And what looks like low-tech is in fact a breathtaking technological innovation. Marc Levinson's sparkling and authoritative story is great fun to read, but it is spectacular economic history as well."--Peter L. Bernstein, author of Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

"Fascinating, informative, wonderfully historicized. This is a terrific untold story."--Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California, Santa Barbara, and editor of Wal-Mart: the Face of Twenty-First Century Capitalism

"The adoption of the modern shipping container may be a close second to the Internet in the way it has changed our lives. It has made products from every corner of the world commonplace and accessible everywhere. It has dramatically cut the cost of transportation and thereby made outsourcing a significant issue. It has transformed the world's port cities, and more. This book, very nicely written, makes a fascinating set of true stories of an apparently mundane subject, and dramatically illustrates how simple innovations can transform our lives."--William Baumol, Director, Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, author of The Free-Market Innovation Machine

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Nikiforos Chatzopoulos, PMP on 4 July 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The most easy read and simple-approached to Maritime business I have ever read, was this book.
If one wishes to understand the processes of a port in a simple yet revealing way,
then this book is the best that s/he can get.

Ideal for newcomers in the maritime business, as a training refresh course material, for students
of MBA specializing in Maritime and Marine Terminals and for those that would like to have
knowledge on how this incredible business works.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Peter Wade VINE VOICE on 5 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
The Box How the Shipping container made the world Smaller and the world economy bigger Marc Levinson

Not immediately a topic that you would think would be that interesting but I have some connection with the container in that I remember first seeing them in about 1968 off the coast of Vietnam. I saw what appeared to be huge ships with names like Sea land New Jersey waiting off the Mekong River in Vietnam.
They were supplying the US army in their bid to beat the communists. I was on a small tanker that was able to go up the Mekong River and we were supplying them with naphtha for airplanes.
I never worked on a cargo ship but I used to see plenty of them, at that time ships were loaded and unloaded by hand. I further remember seeing them in Liverpool in 1969. Now of course forty years later the container is ubiquitous and I was interested to see how they arose.
Like most ideas it is remarkably simple but it took a long time to be accepted because it was so revolutionary. Also the shipping industry had vested interests mainly the labour that were well paid and had a monopoly on loading and unloading ships.
Now of course there do not appear to be trades like stevedores (whatever they were) or longshoremen as the Americans call them. Now everything goes in a box and remains in the box until it arrives at its destination.
When people talk about what has changed out world they cite things like the internet as it is easy to order things all over the world. I would suggest it is the container which allows goods to be manufactured in another country and easily transported to its destination. The other is the bar code so that once it is in the box it can be tracked so we know wherever it is.
The final invention or development is Just in time.
Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Clare Topping on 1 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
The Box How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

I was motivated to buy this book having witnessed first hand the rise in the amount of product shipped by container in the last decade, but then wondered why on earth I was buying such a book. I shouldn't have done; this is an incredibly well-written book about what could be seen to be a mundane and uninspiring subject.

The author combines economics, history, the story of the interference by Port Authorities and Unions and the lack of interest from other areas of the transportation industries, and explains the rise, fall and rise again of the shipping industry whilst pointing out why some locations prospered whilst others faded away.

The parts of the story covered include the initial attempts at containerization, the fight to obtain shipping routes and the role of the Vietnam War in helping in the rise of the containers. Also included are the drawn out process to standardize the containers used, the effect of the price of oil and the rise in world trade.

Altogether this is an unexpectedly fascinating account of the history of an area that has undoubtedly affected all of our lives, even if it has largely gone unnoticed by the majority of consumers. Congratulations to the author.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Dusty Bill on 18 Nov. 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a good book to explain how a simple obvious invention changed the world, against the massed ranks of opposition of everybody from rail companies, trade unions and politicians. It changed the geography of every port, and hence most cities, by dooming "the docks" as they had been for centuries to history and eventually turning decaying ex-working class communities into the new location for offices, shops and above all trendy flats.
It means that in Dubai you can have raspberries from California, tomatoes from Spain, beef from South Africa and almost anything else from China and all at reasonable prices.
All this took place in thirty years and nobody, until now, has explained how and why it happened. This book shows how even a great idea must have visionaries to fight for it to succeed and sometimes these people pay a high price for their ideas.
It takes a bit of effort in places to read all the tedious disputes but it well worth staying the course and understand the effects of the many changes that the container brought to all of us.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Joe Merieux on 20 May 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I liked this book a lot. Its a history of the shipping container but it draws in much more. As an aside there is a good account of ports and unionised port labour - and how that influenced the development of the container.
What is most striking for a technology that has come to dominate this mode of transport is:
* how conservative the industry was at the outset and how much it resisted the container
* how quickly the technology changed during the early days - ship sizes, container size, the power of ships, etc.
* innovative players often saw the container as a way to improve their advantage. The same process meant that dominant players weren't (initially) interested in the container.
Well written and well researched. The evolving story kept me reading in a way that many business books don't achieve.
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