Book Review: Ninety Percent Of Everything

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

This book is not an overall discussion of shipping and logistics [1], but rather happens to detail a particular journey the author took on a Maersk container ship, as well as a different journey on a Portuguese naval vessel on anti-piracy duty in East Africa [2].  As someone who is deeply interested in logistics and has a certain amount of passion about issues of social and economic justice, this book is obviously well within my own particular set of interests.  I am, after all, someone who considered attending the merchant marine academy out of high school, which few people have even heard of, and have long wanted to take the sort of journey the author did as a writer on a container ship, which is not as easy to do as one would think in these particular security-conscious times where superfluous spots for crew on container ships are difficult to find and where many companies are not likely to appreciate a light being shined on the troubling conditions of ordinary crew members from mostly poorer countries.

This book is organized as a series of essays about different matters of life as a merchant mariner that are loosely based on the transit of the author.  There are chapters on the difficulties of embarkation, life aboard, the economics of harbor times, the boredom and danger of the open sea, the history of the Suez canal, the dangers of the high risk area around Somalia and the intractable problem of Somali piracy, the no-man’s land that merchant mariners inhabit between civilian and military life, the sanctuary of mission-based sailor’s aid societies that can be found in England and other places around the world, the horrors of the international livestock trade, the experience of rescue and the lack of concern many captains have for their fellow travelers on the sea, and then a comment on disembarkation.  Throughout the author shows herself a plucky defender of the legitimacy and the dignity of mariners and a suitably serious student of the dark history of the merchant marine and their general poor treatment at the hand of everyone else on the sea from shipping companies, to exploitative officers onboard, to navies in times of war, to civilians who found it acceptable to pin white feathers on those who brought them the food and other civilian goods that they depend on for their comfort and even survival.

Although this book does not serve as a complete history or account of the importance of ocean shipping, it does make for an excellent point of entry into a study of such matters.  The author has clearly done her homework in reading and background research, and she clearly has a great deal of concern and regard for those who live on the seas, a concern that is not often shared by others.  It is unlikely that anyone will be tempted to a vagabond life on the sea as a result of reading this book, and even less likely that the author had any intent to do so.  That said, those who read this book, and pay attention to what the author is getting at, will be much better equipped to be intelligent consumers who understand the price that others pay for the cheap foreign products we find on store shelves, and who are far more compassionate to the suffering of those who bring us these goods under conditions of low pay, poor working conditions, and great fatigue.  Few people reading this book will consider the unsung merchant mariners of the world to be anything less than heroic after paying close attention to their largely obscure efforts to make a better living for themselves under great stress and pressure, even if logistics is a subject that few people pay close attention to unless prompted by material shortage [3].

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Book Review: Ninety Percent Of Everything

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