Uncommon Carriers (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
In this age of instant communication and Internet shopping, it can be easy to forget that an item that takes mere minutes to identify through an online catalog and seconds to order will still take days to arrive. As Howard Strauss of Princeton University puts it in John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers, “it’s easier to move bits than atoms.” Through this book, McPhee’s twenty-seventh if one does not count the two John McPhee Reader collections (1976, 1996), he explores the various ways freight moves from one place to another. In seven essays, he rides cross-country in a tanker truck, up the Illinois River on a towboat moving fifteen barges, and across the Great Plains on a coal train that stretches more than a mile long; he watches ship captains sharpen their technique at ship handling school, re-creates Henry David Thoreau’s journey by canoe up the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and follows a shipment of lobsters from a warehouse in Nova Scotia through “the sort” at the United Parcel Service (UPS) distribution facility. Through these essays a theme emerges: The people who move goods from place to place are skilled and knowledgeable even though they are, to most consumers, invisible.
The book begins and ends with two trips in “the world’s most beautiful truck,” the stainless steel skinned, sixty-five-foot-long tank truck owned and operated by Dan Ainsworth. McPhee, who seems to be comfortable chatting with anyone,...
(The entire section is 1694 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Book World 36 (July 9, 2006): 10.
Booklist 102, no. 16 (April 15, 2006): 4.
The Economist 380 (July 8, 2006): 78.
Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 9 (May 1, 2006): 448.
The New York Review of Books 53, no. 13 (August 10, 2006): 22-25.
The New York Times Book Review 155 (June 18, 2006): 12.
Publishers Weekly 253, no. 16 (April 17, 2006): 183.
School Library Journal 52, no. 9 (September, 2006): 250.
(The entire section is 38 words.)