Consistently illuminating in-depth analysis of the global shipping industry.
British journalist George (The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, 2008) deftly explores how “ninety percent” of everything consumers enjoy is conveyed across international waters. For such an essential service fueled by economic interdependence, it’s mostly overlooked and taken for granted by the same public who are forbidden from the docks and the transport ships. Granted access for her research, the author, a self-proclaimed landlubber, traveled 6,000 miles over five weeks aboard the 80,000-ton Maersk Kendal container vessel. She became personally acquainted with six ports, five seas and two oceans, and she comprehensively reports the details behind the shipping experience and the haunting historic lore of “lost” ships and missing crew. She also considers the sustainability of oceanic life subsisting just beneath these noisy, imposing monstrosities. Once befriended by the ship’s captain, she absorbed his harrowing stories (dubbed “swinging the lantern”) of thieving dockworkers and torrid excursions ashore. The most interesting facets of her seafaring adventure are those that compromised her personal safety—e.g., when pondering how to survive for weeks on a lifeboat or, worse, when the Maersk drifted into treacherous Somali pirate zones. A sleepless night of rattling false alarms spurs a chapter on piracy history and facts on how contemporary pirates bargain for ransom (via Skype). While this eye-opening maritime exposé fails to carry the same bizarro heft as The Big Necessity, it should affirm her place among offbeat, endlessly curious authors like Mary Roach.
An apt and affable nautical chaperone, George’s watery excursion fascinates and dutifully educates.