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The Docks    by Bill Sharpsteen order for
by Bill Sharpsteen
Order:  USA  Can
University of California, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

If you are curious about what happens in one of the largest container ship ports in North America then you'll be fascinated by this book.

Nearly three-quarters of all imports from Asia arrive in the United States at either the Port of Los Angeles or its neighbor, the Port of Long Beach. This is a behind the security fence look at what happens when a ship arrives with its cargo of containers at the Port of Los Angeles.

Bill Sharpsteen tells the story of the port through the eyes of the people who make it function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year in and year out. He first takes the reader along as he accompanies a port pilot as he goes aboard a container ship arriving from Pusan, South Korea, and guides the large ship to its birth.

In the following chapters you'll get an overview of the 7,5000 acre port with its 43 miles of waterfront and then meet the men and women who load and unload the ships, oversee port operations, staff the union halls, shuttle the cargo containers around on trucks, and operate the tug boats that ease the big ships in and out of the harbor.

As the story of the Port of Los Angeles unfolds, you'll also meet some of the community activists who have fought to improve the local air quality (the port is a major air polluter) and tried to block its expansion.

Part of the smog problem is related to the thousands of diesel trucks that move the containers within the port as well as to warehouses in the greater Los Angeles area. This situation is addressed in a separate chapter and explains the scope of the problem and what is being done to alleviate some of the pollution.

Other interesting side stories follow the ups and downs of an importer whose business relies on the easy and rapid flow of goods through the port and the security people who protect the area. The expanded role of women on the docks and the use of new technology to track containers also merit separate chapters in this enlightening narrative.

Although it does contain a number of black and white photos, one would have liked to see a few more pictures sprinkled throughout the text to make it easier for the reader to visualize what the author was discussing.

Bill Sharpsteen's conversational narrative is easy to follow and he makes his topic accessible to the general reader. The author admits that 'the world surrounding the Port of Los Angeles is secretive and press-phobic', which explains why he did not always have access to the people he really wanted to interview.

Those who know a little something about the shipping industry and how ports operate will realize there are some areas that were given short shrift here. But, in all fairness, this may have been due to the author's inability to gain access to the necessary information.

All things considered, though, this is an excellent and entertaining book about what happens in the nation's largest and most complex port. If this whets your curiosity then you'll find The Docks a very worthwhile read.

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