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Uncommon Carriers (2006)

por John McPhee

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7392830,092 (3.85)14
McPhee's books are about real people in real places. Over the past eight years, McPhee has spent considerable time in the company of people who work in freight transportation. This is his sketchbook of them and of his journeys with them. He rides from Atlanta to Tacoma alongside Don Ainsworth, owner and operator of a sixty-five-foot, eighteen-wheel chemical tanker carrying hazmats. He attends ship-handling school on a pond in the foothills of the French Alps, where, for a tuition of $15,000 a week, skippers of the largest ocean ships refine their capabilities in twenty-foot scale models. He goes up the Illinois River on a "towboat" pushing a triple string of barges, the overall vessel being "a good deal longer than the Titanic." And he travels by canoe up the canal-and-lock commercial waterways traveled by Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John, in a homemade skiff in 1839.--From publisher description.… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 27 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Totally fascinating. I bring it up in conversation frequently. ( )
  caedocyon | Feb 21, 2024 |
This is expert nonfiction, travel literature from the perspective of the transportation workers constantly moving freight around America's highways, rails, rivers, and skies.
Skip the gratuitous chapter about McPhee's reenactment of Thoreaus's Concord & Merrimack canoe ride, and read all the other chapters twice. ( )
  AlexThurman | Dec 26, 2021 |
McPhee spends time with people whose job it is to move freight around the United States: the owner-driver of an eighteen-wheeler truck, towboat captains on the Illinois River, and coal-train-drivers on the Union Pacific. He also investigates how UPS sends parcels across the whole country from a huge distribution centre in Kentucky (including live lobsters from Nova Scotia).

For a change in pace, there's a description of a canoe trip he took to retrace the 1839 journey of the Thoreau brothers on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. And a visit to the Port-Revel ship-handling training centre in the French Alps, famous (although McPhee doesn't mention this) as the place where Depardieu's character worked in the late Truffaut film La femme d'à côté.

McPhee has been doing this sort of thing for a very long time, and of course he's also trained several generations of younger writers to do it, so it's all very smooth and professional, he has asked the right questions of everyone he meets on his journeys, and he mostly seems to have understood the technical aspect of what they do very well and explains it clearly. But somehow he doesn't seem very involved. He gives us the facts about the way the Powder River Basin is being dug up and shipped east in thousands of trainloads every year to be burnt to power people's TVs and air conditioners, for example, or the way UPS bribes young people to come and work for it with college courses they will probably never finish, and he allows us to suspect that these might not be altogether good things, but he never actually says so. We've got used to a more engaged style of travel-writing, perhaps. ( )
1 vote thorold | Jul 18, 2021 |
Meh. An assortment of essays, all vaguely (some very vaguely) linked to transportation and cargo. Each one is at least mildly interesting (it is John McPhee, after all), but despite attempts to connect them (the chemical trucker delivered stuff to the coal mine!), overall there's no real theme or direction or...anything to make this a book and not a random collection of essays. One of my favorites is a trip replicating (as well as possible) one taken by a young Thoreau, and written up in his (Thoreau's) first published book. McPhee mentions frequently Thoreau's habit of digressing from the line of events to cover some interesting, but not really related subject - and that's pretty much what this book feels like, a collection of digressions. Mildly enjoyable, but I doubt I'll bother to reread. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Nov 19, 2019 |
So you see a non-fiction book about transportation, trucks, ships, trains, etc., and think maybe not. But then you see the author is John McPhee, a guy who can make anything interesting, and does so here. McPhee travels with a long-haul trucker in a chemical hauler (twice!), attends a ship handling school on a pond in France, rides a barge towboat on the Illinois River, a coal train; and a couple of other transportation related things. He makes them all interesting.

McPhee writes with a firm grasp of facts and background and a deft touch with words. He spends time immersed in his subjects and it shows. His book about oranges is a classic. ( )
  Hagelstein | Oct 23, 2019 |
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McPhee's books are about real people in real places. Over the past eight years, McPhee has spent considerable time in the company of people who work in freight transportation. This is his sketchbook of them and of his journeys with them. He rides from Atlanta to Tacoma alongside Don Ainsworth, owner and operator of a sixty-five-foot, eighteen-wheel chemical tanker carrying hazmats. He attends ship-handling school on a pond in the foothills of the French Alps, where, for a tuition of $15,000 a week, skippers of the largest ocean ships refine their capabilities in twenty-foot scale models. He goes up the Illinois River on a "towboat" pushing a triple string of barges, the overall vessel being "a good deal longer than the Titanic." And he travels by canoe up the canal-and-lock commercial waterways traveled by Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John, in a homemade skiff in 1839.--From publisher description.

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