Book Report: The Box

Sunday, January 7, 2007 7:32

Untitled DocumentThe Box Book CoverIf there is one book that I would suggest for the new year, it is The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson. Unlike The World is Flat by Tom Friedman, this book provides readers with tangible evidence of how the container shaped the world we live in today.

Critical now to global trade, the acceptance and widespread usage of the container is only recent, and it had to overcome a number of hurdles:

1) Government, Unions, and Regulations
2) Existing infrastructure and supply chains
3) Different container and ship designs

But for Malcolm Mcleen and others (Matson, APL, and Evergreen), there was little doubt that the container was the way of the future… and they were proved right as containers replaced break bulk shipments in just a matter of years as the primary method of shipment.

For those ports, cities, and/ or countries, the choice not to accept and invest in the container was costly. In the case of New York, Los Angeles, London, and other historically significant trade ports, entire manufacturing communities relocated following the inability of unions and city leaders to buy into the vision. Born from their inaction the cities like Rotterdam, Singapore, Long Beach and Alameda became critical ports and their economies boomed as a result.

When trying to put this book into context and find it’s China angle, I am drawn to where McLeen’s “there can be no doubt, however, that containerization eliminated of the of the key reasons for operating a factory in New York: ease of Shipment”. This statement for me offered two angles:

1) For China the container was one of the largest reasons that the last 20 years have seen such phenomenal growth. For without the container, the ability of manufacturers to send goods from mainland china to markets around the world would just not be possible. Volumes would not be able to scale, product damage rates would be unacceptable, and the amount of labor required to ship break bulk would eat away any savings from manufacturing in China.

2) The future of China will required balanced growth, and in my mind, the container will drive that internally to China as containerized ships begin servicing cities along the Yangtze (Chongqing, Wuhan, and dozens of others that will invest in container ports facilities). As the service comes online, and as the costs of manufacturing rise on the east coast, the movement of manufacturing inland will grow stronger.

This book is a must read for those looking to gain an insight into how global trade can from an operational perspective. while not a China specific book, I have as a result of reading this book reviewed a couple of theories I had about China’s future development.

To see what others are saying about the book, go to Amazon (current rating by 16 reviewers is 4.5 stars)

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2 Responses to “Book Report: The Box”

  1. The Box - History of the Ocean Container » Third Party Logistics News - 3plwire says:

    January 12th, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    […] Allroadsleadtochina has an excellent article about “The Box”; a book about the history of the ocean container and it’s impact on world trade. Allroadsleadstochina comments on how the “box” contributed to China’s extraordinary growth over the last 20 years. Check out allroadsleadtochina for the entire article as well as a link to purchase the book on I’m looking forward to reading this book next month. Archived in Useful Links, Education | Trackback | | Top Of Page [EMail This Post] […]

  2. Freight Security in China. Don’t Let Your Goods Go Missing | Top China Suppliers says:

    July 26th, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    […] through containerized freight many of the issues related to damage and loss have been mitigated (see Book Report: The Box to learn more about benefit the container brought the […]