Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ninety Percent of Everything: inside shipping, the invisible industry that puts clothes on your back, gas in your car, and food on your plate

by Rose George

Is it an oxymoron (or is it ironic) to call something a textbook example of literary nonfiction (because not being like a textbook is what makes nonfiction literary)? Whatever it is, this book is a great example of the genre. It is factually interesting and informing, without cramming a lot of dry data, and the author makes herself and her experience part of the story. The romance of the sea wouldn't come through without her including herself in the story, and it is the tension between our feelings about the sea and the ugly realities of seaborne cargo that makes the book compelling.

Shipping is a murky world, filled with shell companies, owners in one country employing workers from other countries on boats registered in yet other countries. This book is only a glimpse into that world, since a lot more than one book would be needed to lay it bare. Either way, the industry is so invisible to us (the way farms and cows are invisible to supermarket shoppers) that it is unlikely to change, or be changed, with any swiftness, no matter how much of its underbelly is revealed. Not that this book is an expose or call for radical reform; it's actually pretty neutral, letting the facts speak for themselves.

Good book for nonfiction lovers and adventurous types. Could also be interesting to people concerned about the environment, workers' rights, and social justice. I'd even recommend it to business-types on the grounds that it's about commerce, therefore useful and productive, while also providing some measure of relaxing escapism and adventure.

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