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Books about Boxes and Boats

April 7, 2021

I love libraries, so I’m excited to celebrate National Library week from April 4-10. From first grade through high school, I spent time in the library being a student helper or reading — traveling to faraway lands for adventures with my Anne of Green Gables-sized imagination.

LaTonja with Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen Novel
Meeting Mr. Darcy at the Jane Austen Center in Bath, England; copyright LaTonja Brown

Since some things never change, I love the Seattle Public Library. I prefer physical books, thus my shelves of books — on a side note, I keep downsizing, but they seem to reproduce overnight. I do like my Kindle. I can travel with 25 books checked out from the library on one handy device. The library offers more than books; it has a wealth of information. I receive monthly emails from the library, which point to resources, events, and programs and services the library provides.

The Seattle Public Library has books about the maritime industry that are worth checking out — pun intended. There are books available that delve into containerization and how it revolutionized trade, the working waterfront, and globalization. Ever wanted to learn more about the importance of Ports? As a book lover and a Port professional, I’ve curated this reading list for you. 

  • The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson is a well-known book about the birth of containerization. The book recounts the work of Malcom McLean, the visionary behind the container. McLean is often referred to as the father of containerization. The book recounts the development of containers, the struggle to adopt to using them, and the cost reduction of freight transportation once they were widely accepted. If you are a waterfront history buff, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason are part of the story. Levinson’s newest work Outside the Box is also available from the library. The book tells the history of globalization through stories about the people and companies that built the global supply chain. 
  • Box Boats by Brian J. Cudahy recounts the container revolution. It describes how McLean’s idea revolutionized shipping and the way the world trades. The book charts McLean’s Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company, which grew into Sea-Land Services, which evolved into Maersk-Sealand. The company is now Maersk — the largest container line in the world — and its subsidiaries. 
  • The Docks by Bill Sharpsteen focuses on people who work around the Port of Los Angeles, the largest port in the country and the Western Hemisphere. The book contains stories about people like commercial boat pilots, one of the first women in longshore, union officials and employers, an environmental activist and port security. Although not available at the library, there is a book about the history of the Port of Seattle called Rising Tides and Tailwinds: The Story of the Port of Seattle. The book covers the passage of the Port District Act, which allowed for the formation of the port. It also goes into the founding of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
  • The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli traces a t-shirt's life story from a cotton field in Texas, to a factory in China, back to the U.S. in a storefront, to a used clothing market in Africa. The book delves into the complexities of international trade like politics that impact trade between countries — like the trade war — and the cultural and human elements in trade. 
  • Globalization is not without controversy. In the book Why Globalization Works, economist Martin Wolf discusses globalization as a concept and as a reality. The book outlines the history of the global economy and talks about the mechanics of world trade. He concludes that the obstacles of world trade are not the market but politics and governments. 

Trade has transpired throughout history: the silk and amber roads; the spice, incense, and salt routes; ancient cities like Istanbul (Constantinople) and Rome, places where people from different cultures merged and influenced one another. From my viewpoint as an analyst, research shows that international trade increases jobs, boosts income, and reduces prices.

Top photo credit: LaTonja on the train platform to Hogwarts. Copyright LaTonja Brown

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