Seafaring Journeys with Cargo

Chevy Chase LibraryStaff Picks

Seafaring Journeys with Cargo

Nonfiction Explorations of Maritime Shipping

Last year I traveled as a passenger for almost four weeks on two transatlantic cargo ships. Since I've returned, I have been reading books to gain further insight into the world of maritime shipping. Many products we use every day, including the device you're reading these words on and many library books, have journeyed across oceans on cargo ships. Yet, the shipping world is invisible to most of us. Without leaving land you too can journey into this fascinating world by reading the books below. You'll learn about the history and economics of maritime shipping, the lives of seafarers and longshoremen, and environmental and labor issues in the industry.

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George
Ninety percent of goods shipped come across the sea, yet the world of maritime cargo transport remains opaque to most of us. English journalist Rose George seeks to illuminate this unseen world by traveling for several weeks on the containership Kendal from England to Singapore, then on an antipiracy task force ship in the Indian Ocean and a whale research vessel off of Cape Cod. In her detailed and at times humorous account of her experience, she describes daily life aboard a containership, the working conditions and lives of seafarers, the process of embarkation and disembarkation, port operations, and passage through the Suez Canal. She also explores difficulties governing and patrolling the industry, in part because of "flags of convenience"; pollution caused and whales endangered by shipping; piracy and other dangers at sea. Along with personal experiences, her investigative research and stories of seafarers provide a captivating picture of the international shipping industry. Next time you use or buy a product shipped across the ocean, this book will help you imagine the people, ships and machinery involved in its journey.

Moby-Duck: The True-Story of 28,000 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn
When the Evergreen containership Ever Laurel encountered a severe storm in the Pacific Ocean in 1992, two columns of containers fell overboard. One of these containers contained 28,800 bath toys—red beavers, blue turtles, green frogs and yellow ducks. In subsequent years, people reported finding these animal toys on shorelines of Alaska, Canada and Maine. In this highly detailed and whimsical narrative, journalist and former high school English teacher Donovan Hohn attempts to explore this story's scientific, economic and mythological dimensions. In his quest he joins flotsam gatherers off the Alaskan coastline, travels with a research vessel trawling for degraded plastic in Hawaiian seas, visits the Chinese factory where the toys were manufactured, traverses the Pacific Ocean on a containership, accompanies oceanographers on a research vessel in the North Atlantic, and cruises the Northwest Passage on a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker. He learns about oceanography, driftology, plastic pollution, the economics of the global toy trade, the maritime shipping industry, how ducks became important symbology in modern childhood, and ruminates on philosophical questions that arise throughout his adventures on sea and land. After reading Moby-Duck, you'll never look at a toy yellow duck in the same way as before.

The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina
In this engrossing work of investigative journalism, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ian Urbina explores the lawlessness of the world's oceans, where environmental, labor and human rights abuses run rampant. "The unfortunate truth," he writes, is that "in much of the maritime world the law protects a ship's cargo better than its crew." At significant personal risk, he spends four years traveling oceans on fishing boats, freighters, research and advocacy vessels, private security floating armories, and Coast Guard cutters, investigating ocean-dependent industries and people who work in them. He tells heart-wrenching stories of human trafficking, slavery, piracy, labor abuse, poaching, stowaways and environmental decimation, but also of activism seeking to right these injustices. Enhanced with photographs and drawings, this book exposes disturbing truths of this largely unseen frontier central to the global economy. Ultimately, it implicates governments, companies and consumers who, whether knowingly or not, are complicit in these injustices.

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Larger by Marc Levinson
In this well-researched work, economist Marc Levinson explores the history of the shipping container and how this simple yet innovative technology transformed global economies. First describing earlier port practices involving labor-intensive loading onto breakbulk ships, he then tells the story of how trucking magnate Malcom McLean developed the shipping container for use in his industries starting in the mid-1950s. Despite opposition from longshoremen, transport companies and government regulators, containerization became widespread and significantly reduced shipping costs, enabling the massive growth of global trade over the past half-century. Levinson demonstrates how it devastated traditional ports (such as New York and London) while fueled growth of other ports (such as Oakland, Shanghai, and Newark, NJ), impacted longshoremen communities and unions, and made "just in time" manufacturing possible. This highly informative book will especially interest those seeking to better understand the technological underpinnings of globalization.

The Docks by Bill Sharpsteen
The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest port in the U.S. At the time of this book's publication in 2011, 40 percent of all US-bound cargo arrived here and over 70 percent of Asian imports entered the US here. With great detail and eye-catching photographs, Los-Angeles-based journalist and photographer Bill Sharpsteen tells the behind-the-scenes stories of people involved in varied operations of this port: harbor pilots who guide vessels into port, crane operators who load and unload containers of goods, drivers of yard trucks that haul containers to different areas of the port, tugboat captains, port administrators and clerks, women longshoremen working in a male-dominated environment, union officials at odds with employers, an environmental activist fighting air pollution from the port, and those trying to enforce port security. Making visible this mostly unseen world, he discusses the environmental, labor and security issues at the port.

The Container Principle: How a Box Changes the Way We Think by Alexander Klose, translated from German by Charles Marcrum II
Over the last several decades, our increasingly globalized world has become organized around the container. Shipping containers carry the bulk of material goods across oceans and land, and also provide storage space and shelter. In this book, media theorist Alexander Klose explores the cultural history of the shipping container and the container's effect on how we live and think. He discusses the history of land-water transport, the container as a form of time capsule, the rise of logistics, containerization of computing, standardization in economics, architecture of container-like housing, and container-inspired artwork. The container is not just an efficient way to provide physical storage and transport goods, he argues, but metaphorically expresses a fundamental paradigm change.

Looking for a Ship by John McPhee
At the time John McPhee wrote this book in 1990, the US merchant marine fleet had shrunk from 2000 to 400 total ships. His poetic prose tells the story of his friend, merchant mariner Andy Chase, who struggles to find work. When Andy finds a job as second mate aboard the S.S. Stella Lykes, one of the last American merchant ships, the author travels with him on a 42-day voyage from Charleston down the South American west coast and back through the Panama Canal. With captivating detail, he tells stories about his voyage, intertwined with tales from crew about the seafaring life, adventures involving pirates, mechanical problems, stowaways, collisions, other ships, incompetent pilots, drug smuggling and storms. He also includes poignant commentary on the history and decline of the American merchant marine industry.
— Rachel W.