Book Review: ‘Arriving Today’ by Christopher Mims
By Ira Breskin
Arriving Today is an insightful, first-to-market analysis of persistent, pandemic-induced international supply chain snafus that have become all too familiar to frustrated consumers.
Author Christopher Mims examines this unprecedented supply chain challenge, using about one-third of his recently published 325-page book to explain the maritime sector’s efforts to negotiate recent disruptions. He does so by guiding the reader through Amazon’s Rube Goldberg-like supply chain labyrinth, tracing the inelegant journey of a basic electronic device (a USB charger) from the manufacturer’s loading dock in Vietnam to the Amazon ‘fulfilment center’ in Shakopee, Minnesota.
Mims explains the arcane maritime operations that facilitate this small charger’s global tour and shines a spotlight on the vital, interrelated roles of many industry veterans. He shows why drayage drivers, containership and marine terminal operators, harbor pilots, seafarers and ship agents are critically important.
Publication of this book is timely. It is among the first to explain how pandemic-induced demand quickly stressed already taut supply chains beyond their limits. Absent from the book are possible solutions to fix broken supply chains or any speculation about when a ‘return to normalcy’ is likely.
Readers of Arriving Today will benefit from the obsessive details Mims provides to enrich understanding of complex marine operations, as well as his ability to help readers visualize the industry’s reach, using out-of-the-box comparisons. For example, he equates total cargo capacity of the world’s 5,000 containerships to the storage space provided by an equivalent number of 1,250-foot-tall Empire State buildings. He then places those container-laden buildings, in scale, within the midtown Manhattan street grid.
Mims developed his eye for detail, historical perspective and ability to translate techno-speak into digestible prose while writing about science and technology for The Wall Street Journal, MIT Technology Review and other publications.
Arriving Today intelligently derives its style from two popular supply chain-related books. Like in Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy (2005) by Georgetown University Professor Pietra Rivoli, Mims traces the routing of a manufactured product from factory to consumer; and like in author/journalist Rose George’s – 90 Percent of Everything (2014), Mims offers a hard-boiled, common sense explanation of highly-specialized marine operations.
Finally, please note that Amazon Prime delivered my copy of Arriving Today quickly, and as scheduled. Such service affirmed many points about supply chain resiliency that Mims makes in this enjoyable and useful book.
Arriving Today can be found on Amazon.com.
Ira Breskin is a senior lecturer at State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, NY and author of The Business of Shipping (9th edition, 2018), a primer that explains shipping economics, operations and regulations.
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