The Container Principle: How A Box Changes The Way We Think, by Alexander Klose
On the face of it, this book should have been an obvious one for me to appreciate. After all, few people have had a life that has been as rich in many of the diverse forms of modularity that the author talks about here, from modular buildings  to class modules to a fairly obvious preoccupation with logistics . Yet despite the fact that it was pretty clear that this book was of a subject matter that I found interesting that there were deep problems with the work as well. For one, the author appears to be unsure of whether to celebrate or mourn the revolution in logistics, and at times he blames different parties for what he considers to be an unsettling containerization of the world in which we live. Yet the author’s apparent solution, some sort of statist socialism, one which is hardly more humanizing and conducive to human dignity than the rise of logistics that the author seems deeply unsettled with. The author seems disinclined to do more than complain about the reversal of human and corporate aims, which makes this a somewhat frustrating book to read, apart from its latent anti-Americanism.
The contents of the book, appropriately enough, are organized in modules that the author claims can be read in any order. That said, the book does have a pretty logical flow and even given its purported modularity the order of the chapters presents a certain context simply by virtue of the order of how the materials are presented. This order is as follows: the author begins by discussing an accident that deposited containers on a beach, and then discusses containers as time capsules. Then the author examines what a container is, discusses the origins of the contemporary mania of standardized containers by looking at the blending of sea and land routes, and provides a history of containers from the ancient world to today in a broad schematic fashion. Later chapters include a discussion of logistics and how shipping moved from a minor issue to a major one, a look at containers within computing, life in cells from modernism to trailers and refugee housing, and a discussion of life in a container world in the contemporary era, a discussion that takes in all about 340 pages or so of reading that goes quickly thanks to a skilled translation by Charles Marcum II. The book is full of evident care in its research and some excellent figures and photographs and anecdotes that will likely please many of those who pick up this book.
How a reader feels about this book will depend on a variety of factors. How much are you interested in the subject of containers, and in containers not just as a real historical phenomenon but also as a concept and idea that can be discussed in philosophical and political ways as well? How much do you appreciate the author’s sound research and evident attention to history as opposed to how annoyed are you by collectivist and leftist perspectives in business? As for me, I found a great deal at fault in the author’s worldview, but I appreciated the thought provoking commentary about containers and enjoyed the way the author looked at containers from a variety of different and intriguing perspectives, and challenged readers to examine the infrastructure in our world that is generally only noticed when things go wrong and not under normal circumstances. For better or for worse, we live in a world that seeks to standardize and automate for a logic that does not concern itself with the well-being of ordinary people. Then again, our governments do no better in such matters, and we are left with having to seek out our own best interests in the face of a world that wants to put all of us in boxes for easy categorization and handling.
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