Ninety Percent of Everything
March 24, 2019 10:48 AM - by Rose George - Subscribe

On ship-tracking Web sites, 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, and so we must ship. Without shipping there would be no clothes, food, paper, or fuel. Without all those dots, the world would not work. Yet freight shipping is all but invisible. Away from public scrutiny, it revels in suspect practices, dubious operators, and a shady system of "flags of convenience." 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.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (9 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This book really gets into the grit of shipping freight by ship and how unbelievably sketchy the whole industry is, but also how it supports our modern lifestyle. Rose George actually embeds herself on one of these behemoths risking her own life to report the story behind the shipping container ship industry. One of my favorite parts in the book is a long discussion on modern piracy where George absolutely skewers the romantic notion of the high seas pirate. Those are bad people, but honestly, so are the dubious operators behind ocean shipping.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this is a great book - amazing look into something that's a part of our lives but really hidden from most of us.
posted by entropone at 2:32 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I worked in the freight industry for two-odd decades.

Ocean carriers are the worst to deal with, then rail, then air, and motor is easiest.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:12 PM on March 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Well then Chrysostom you've either A)read this book already or B)should read this book as you have unique insight and it will be something you know or C)Shouldn't read this book because it might raise your blood pressure unnecessarily because people are terrible.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:39 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

B, I'd say. I find the transportation/logistics field quite interesting.

But yes, people are terrible.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:33 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

The thing that kills me is that there's really no reason at all shipping has to be as exploitative and evil as it is. Per kilo, it's mindblowingly labour un-intensive, and it would be trivial to pay a living wage and avoid slavery first and foremost, but even properly registering and properly maintaining the freighters would cost nothing compared to the value of what they ship each year. It's so awful.
posted by smoke at 3:54 AM on March 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

looks interesting! I used to work for the conglomerate that owns the world's largest shipping fleet and this could be a good view of that side of the building.

"all but invisible" really went into perspective when our network completely crashed due to malware a couple of years ago and we had to rebuild everything almost from scratch. We were *very* visible in those days......
posted by alchemist at 4:41 AM on March 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

alchemist, here's an FPP about the incident I believe you are talking about.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:24 AM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

@chrysostom yes! I remember that one, and the Wired article as well. It was the very definition of the curse "may you live in interesting times....."
posted by alchemist at 5:42 AM on March 27, 2019

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