John McPhee (2006): Uncommon Carriers
John McPhee specializes, like Tracy Kidder, in detailed and ruminative reportages about things and people we see everyday, but seldom think about. In this collection of articles, he primarily studies transportation, describing the workings of long-distance trucking, coal trains, cargo ships, barges and a memorable case study of the workings of “The Sort”, UPS’ humongous sorting facility in Loisville, Kentucky.
I plan to use at least two of these articles in my classes – definitely the one on UPS, and perhaps the one on coal trains (following a crew from Union Pacific between strip mine and powerplant) or the one on interstate trucking (following a driver with a highly polished chemical truck moving WD-40 all around the US. Business school students (as, indeed, most of the population in Norway as well as the USA) have little experience with industrial scale enterprises, and McPhee’s excellent reportages instill not just an understanding (and admiration) for the scale of these enterprises that no Harvard Business School case can come close to, but also an understanding and respect for the people running it, the unsung heroes of the eCommerce and air conditioning revolution.
Moving writing, quite literally. An example for any academic writer trying to explain what makes modern society tick.