© 2006 John McPhee
Uncommon Carriers invites readers to spend a day in the life of a truck drivers, ocean-going cargo ship and riverbound freight tugboat pilots, train engineers, UPS aviators, and — just for good measure — pleasure-canoers sailing the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Aside from the odd inclusion of his retracing Henry David Thoreau’s oar-beats, the work is part human interest and part-inside look into the transportation service that keeps the world of goods going round. Some sections are more useful to the latter end than others; his chapter on cargo ship pilots takes place at a training school off the coast of France, and communicates the difficulty of moving across something that has a mind of its own, but nothing about the business of commercial freight. The chapters on river freight and UPS more conducive to understanding the ins and outs of the industry. What Uncommon Carriers offers besides that is the personal aspect of these jobs. McPhee’s research is all first-hand: he shares the lives of the men who do these jobs, befriending some and enduring the teasing of others. He’s especially fond of the truck driver who carries a chemistry book to help him wash his rig, judges truck stops on whether they carry his beloved Wall Street Journal, and who moonlights as a wordsmith. The account is peppered with many lively characters like him. On whole, this was quite an interesting peek into a world we depend on so much.
Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry that Puts Clothes On Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food On Your Plate. Rose George