June 2, 2006

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects: Uncommon Carriers

By: Jack @ 7:33 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Uncommon Carriers
By John McPhee, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, $24.00 Hardcover, May 2006, ISBN 0374280398
I subscribe to The New Yorker for reasons named Gladwell, Sedaris, McPhee, Updike, Remmick and more. They are some of the best non-fiction writers on the planet. For them, I put up with the frustration of an ever-growing stack of magazines knowing that within are worthwhile treasures.
Thus, it was my lucky day when Uncommon Carriers -- my chance to review a John McPhee book -- landed on my desk. It's a compilation of his writings about freight transportation workers. Throughout the book, he rides with an over-the-road trucker hauling "hazmat", pushes barges with a crew on America's waterways, travels on coal trains and follows lobsters to discover how they are raised, cared for and shipped via UPS.
What sets McPhee's writing apart, is how he uses history to build characters and a story. By the end, you enjoy and appreciate the hazmat trucker and barge workers.
His writing is superb; just read this short excerpt about taking a barge up the Illinois River:
All day long as I look out from the pilothouse I can't help thinking, and thinking again, that this river is as natural as a railroad track. Its corridors are framed in artifice. The pool above the dam at LaGrange is eighty miles long. The State of Illinois and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have accomplished such extensive alterations that restoration is beyond reason. It would be easier to declare Manhattan Island a roadless area and raise the money to make it so. With wooded islands and bordering lakes--passing glimpses over fields to bluffs and ridges--the river does now and again recall the natural world. Yet within its straightened sides it is really a canal, and it has been a route of freight transportation since Colonial times.

Brilliant and that's just one piece of the book.
Consider this review my recommendation for real beach reading. Be the only person on the beach not reading a Dan Brown book; John McPhee writes better anyway.
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