Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Uncommon Carriers: John McPhee's Adventures in Distribution

Distribution is fascinating--at least if you read the very readable Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee (or listen to it, as I did).

McPhee gives readers an entertaining insider's view of transportation in all its glory: Watching millions of packages move by in orderly fashion inside the UPS Air sorting hub in Louisville; riding along with a trucker hauling hazmat; on the bridge of a towboat handling a string of barges longer than the Titanic; following lobsters from water to restaurant; and on and on. McPhee criss-crossed the continent researching this book to show how everything from coal to chemicals gets from one place to another, efficiently and effectively.

I didn't know that UPS planes sometimes carry Fort Knox gold in their cargo holds. That's only one of the interesting and timeless factoids I gained from Uncommon Carriers. My least favorite chapter was the one where the author and his son-in-law follow Thoreau's river journey from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, but that's a minor quibble. I agree with the reviewer who said this book could have been titled: Hmm, I Didn't Know That. McPhee packs a lot of entertainment into his discussions of how distribution works. Highly recommended!

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