Sweeping Revelations And Generalities Need Better Documentation. As narrative nonfiction where facts are presented without documentation in favor of a more stylized, narrative based approach, this book works. And it does pretty well exactly what its description promises- shows the entire logistics industry from the time a product is assembled overseas through its travel to the port of origin to loading onto a ship to being offloaded from said ship onto trains and trucks into the very heart of fulfillment centers and delivery services all the way to your door. It uses a blended reality approach of the emerging COVID crisis, wherein Mims claims to have actually been in Vietnam as it was beginning to a more hypothetical “this is where this item was on this date”… right as global shipping began its “holiday everyday” levels of the early lockdown period in particular, and this approach serves it well as a narrative structure.
That noted, it also uses its less-documented, more-editorial nature to have constant political remarks, where YMMV on the editorial pieces and the documentation checks in at just 13% of the overall text. (More common range for bibliography sections in nonfiction ARCs tends to be in the 20-30% range in my own experience.) It is also questionable in its facts at times, for example when it claims that the US military’s efforts in Vietnam were the drivers of ship-based containerization… which Bruce Jones’ To Rule The Waves, to be released on exactly the same day as this book, shows in a much more documented fashion isn’t exactly the case. For a reader such as myself that was growing interested in logistics and related issues even before the insanities erupted and who, in fact, read an ARC of Emily Guendelsberger’s On The Clock (2019)– cited extensively when this text looks to Amazon and their fulfillment centers directly, among many other similar works such as Alex MacGillis’ Fulfillment (2020), the aforementioned Jones text (2021), Plastic Free by Rebecca Prinz-Ruiz (2020), Driven by Alex Davies (2021), Unraveled by Maxine Bedat (2021), and even What’s The Use by Ian Stewart (2021)… this book touched on a lot of issues I was already familiar with, mostly from more fully documented texts, but placed them in a comprehensive narrative structure that indeed flows quite well.
Read this book. It really is utterly fascinating, and many of the books referenced above face similar issues regarding their politics, to this one is hardly alone in that regard. But also read those other books to see their particular pieces in quite a bit more detail. Still, in the end this one was quite readable and is sure to generate much conversation among those who do read it. Very much recommended.
This review of Arriving Today by Christopher Mims was originally written on July 27, 2021.