In This Review

Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula
Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula
By Laleh Khalili
Verso, 2020, 368 pp

Ninety percent of the world’s goods and 60 percent of its oil are transported by sea. The numbers are staggering, but the plumbing of globalization—maritime trade, logistics, and the shipping of hydrocarbons—is often hidden, as Khalili puts it, “behind veils of security and bureaucracy.” She has burrowed into archives, traveled on container ships, pored over statistical data and engineering reports, and talked to oil executives and port managers, stevedores and labor activists in several Persian Gulf ports. The result is a fascinating if, as she acknowledges, “untidy” book. It is a richly revealing portrait of a complex industry that mingles both astonishingly archaic practices—routes plotted on paper charts, for instance, and port laborers locked in work camps—and dazzling technological triumphs. The uncertain boundaries between civilian and military transport, the complex way ships’ registries work, and the shifting ties between governments and industry are, like sea-lanes themselves, difficult to pin down but important to chart, and Khalili provides a valuable window into this world.