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Uncommon Carriers

Uncommon Carriers
John McPhee
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006
HE199 .A2 M39 2006

This is a book about people who drive trucks, captain ships, pilot towboats, drive coal trains, and carry lobsters through the air: people who work in freight transportation. In recent years, John McPhee has spent considerable time with such people, and Uncommon Carriers is his sketchbook of them, their work, and of his journey in their company.

He rides from Atlanta to Tacoma alongside Dan Ainsworth, owner and operator of a sixty-five-foot, fifty-axle, eighteen-wheel chemical tanker carrying hazmats - in Ainsworth's opinion "the world's most beautiful truck," so highly polished you could part your hair while looking at it. He attends ship-handling school on a pond in the foothills of the French Alps, where, for a tuition of fifteen thousand dollars a week, skippers of the largest ocean ships refine their capabilities in twenty-foot scale models. He goes "out in the sort" among the machines that process a million packages a day at UPS Air's distribution hub at Louisville International Airport. He travels up the "tight-assed" Illinois River on a towboat pushing a triple string of barges, the overall vessel being "a good deal longer than the Titanic," longer even than the Queen Mary 2. In Nebraska, Kansas, Georgia, and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, he rides in the cabs of coal trains. And he travels by canoe up the canal-and-lock commercial waterways travelled by twenty-two-year-old Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John, in a homemade skiff 164 years earlier, the journey described in Thoreau's first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Only in scale do the locks of the Middlesex and Union canals of nineteenth-century New England much differ from the locks of Midwestern rivers today.

Uncommon Carriers is classic work by John McPhee, in prose distinguished, as always, by its author's warm humor, keen insight, and rich sense of human character.

Quoted from dustjacket.