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Prime Movers of Globalization

Bill Gates reviews Vaclav Smil’s Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines:

… Smil says, today’s prime movers have reduced the cost of shipping so much that “distance to the market has been largely eliminated” as a factor in siting manufacturing facilities, sourcing imported materials, or pursing new export markets. Another important development was the containerization of cargo so it can be quickly loaded on and off ships, trains, and trucks. This one advance cut the delivery time of many shipments by more than 95 percent.

Smil includes some fun anecdotes about the people who had a role in these innovations. For instance, the idea of containerized shipping originated with a North Carolina trucker who got tired of waiting all day to have his bales of cotton unloaded at the docks in New Jersey. Why couldn’t they just pick up the trailer attached to his truck and put it on the ship, he wondered?

…There are a lot of fascinating historical points and statistics in Smil’s book that make it an interesting read, but what most fascinated me was learning about the incredible impact these two innovations have had on so many aspects of our lives.

Read Gates’ entire review. Smil also wrote, Why America Is Not a New Rome, which I reviewed here.