What constitutes a dramatic situation? What makes for an interesting story?
The most interesting stories, to me, often come from the humblest of places. The history of salt; the manufacturers of parts for electrical sockets, water fountains, sock factories, chair legs, bucket handles, straws, Parmalat-style packaging (box & lid), keycaps, microphone covers, whiteboard backing, broomhandles; import duties & tariffs in 17th-century Britain; the company that makes machines that can print on diapers (flexigraphic printing); traders of wicker, cork, gypsum, shale, spring steel, vinyl, styrofoam peanuts; antimicrobial coatings for deli slicers, baby changing tables, and elevator buttons; a variety of glues and solvents; and so on. The duller the subject, the more I feel there is to uncover.
Like my father, who worked in television, I have little interest in melodrama. Whether it’s the evening news or another form of abrupt exaggeration, we’re not interested. My father’s favourite character in the Bible was instrumental in bringing down the walls of Jericho — but never shared his name.
Anyway, enough family history. Here is a bona fide fascinating story about how the humble box redirected the rivers of money that flow opposite today’s global goods market. Fortunes were made and unmade; cities brought low and raised high.
The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger charts the historic rise of the intermodal shipping container and how it changed the economic landscape on a major scale.
The New York Times: A revolution that came in a box
Before the container, Mr. Levinson writes: ”It was not routine for shoppers to find Brazilian shoes and Mexican vacuum cleaners in stores in the middle of Kansas. Japanese families did not eat beef from cattle in Wyoming, and French clothing designers did not have their exclusive apparel cut and sewn in Turkey and Vietnam.”
Which is to say: the line from ”containerization” to globalization is a straight one.