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On ship-tracking websites, the waters are black with dots. Each dot is a ship; each ship is laden with boxes; each box is laden with goods. In postindustrial economies, we no longer produce but buy. We buy, so we must ship. Without shipping there would be no clothes, food, paper, or fuel. Without all those dots, the world would not work.
Freight shipping has been no less revolutionary than the printing press or the Internet, yet it is all but invisible. Away from public scrutiny, shipping revels in suspect practices, dubious operators, and a shady system of “flags of convenience.” Infesting our waters, poisoning our air, and a prime culprit of acoustic pollution, shipping is environmentally indefensible. And then there are the pirates.
Rose George, acclaimed chronicler of what we would rather ignore, sails from Rotterdam to Suez to Singapore on ships the length of football fields and the height of Niagara Falls; she patrols the Indian Ocean with an anti-piracy task force; she joins seafaring chaplains, and investigates the harm that ships inflict on endangered whales.
Sharply informative and entertaining, Ninety Percent of Everything reveals the workings and perils of an unseen world that holds the key to our economy, our environment, and our very civilization.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
For the "Non-Fiction Book" square of the Reading Outside the Box challenge, I chose a book about shipping. Why shipping? Because I have a friend working in the industry who makes it sound like it's interesting, and I wanted to learn more.
There are three things I learned from reading Ninety Percent of Everything:
- More goods are transported by container ships than I imagined.
- The shipping industry is disorganized and opaque.
- I would not want to work on a container ship.
The book wasn't what I expected it to be. I thought I'd learn more about how the shipping industry works. Well, I did, in a sense, because I got a behind the scenes look at life on a container ship. However, instead of explaining the business of shipping, the book only provided a series of anecdotes based on the time the author spent aboard a ship. Some of the stories were interesting and insightful, but some others were boring and I didn't see the point in them because they didn't have to do with shipping. If you want to read about a sailor's time at sea, this book might be for you, but if you want to learn about shipping, there are likely to be better books for that.