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Two books pull back curtain on "logistical magic" of modern life

By Ben Ames | April 25, 2016 | 1:44 PM

Most citizens of the global economy take logistics for granted, not pondering how their purchases arrive on their doorsteps as long as each parcel arrives cheap and fast.

Two books that have hit retail shelves in recent months may change that, however. The first examines the “logistical magic behind every trip we take and every click we make,” while the other takes a critical look at the crumbling status of American infrastructure like roads and bridges.

In Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation, author Edward Humes digs into “the hidden and costly wonders of our buy-it-now, get-it-today world of transportation.”

Humes uses interviews and data to explore the impact that ports, traffic-control centers, and research labs are having on our transportation future. He looks at the complex movements of humans and goods from multiple perspectives, such as the increasing number of Americans who live without cars and the great distance UPS goes to deliver a leopard-printed phone case.

Finally, the author makes the whole equation personal by tracking one day in the life of his Southern California family, examining their commutes, traffic jams, grocery stops, and online shopping excursions.

In The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure, author Henry Petroski takes a sobering look at the state of American roads and bridges.

He quickly concludes that our infrastructure is at a crisis state, citing The American Society of Civil Engineers for its recent dismal grading of U.S. roads (D) and bridges (C+). Most alarming, the society described 65,000 American bridges as "structurally deficient."

Better maintenance is essential to America's economic health, he argues. And that judgment will affect everything from interstate highways—with their attending guardrails, stop signs, and traffic lights—to local civic features such as potholes, gutters, and curbs.

Of course, supply chain professionals work with many of these challenges every day. But thanks to these two new additions to the neighborhood bookstore or e-commerce cart, our friends and family may finally gain a better appreciation of what truly happens behind the curtain of global logistics to make our modern world go ‘round.

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