Book Club Review – The Travels Of A T-Shirt In The Global Economy

I first heard of this book on Planet Money, after they did a t-shirt series of their own. The book follows professor Pietra Rivoli as she tries to find the origins of a t-shirt she purchased in Florida. She traces the shirt through Texas cotton, Chinese factories, US customs and the secondhand clothing market in Africa.

There are some very fascinating sections of the book. Chinese factory conditions have spent a lot of time in the US news lately, between FoxConn and the This American Life episode. In light of this, Rivoli’s discussion of factory conditions is especially interesting, in particular how happy the workers are to be there, rather than working on a farm. Further Rivoli is able to make exceptionally boring and convoluted trade agreements be both intelligible and interesting.

Unfortunately, the book is a bit dry, especially in the middle. For example, she spends three chapters on the cotton industry in the US. For an academic, this is probably fascinating work. For me, as just an average consumer, it was dull.

Overall, however, the book is interesting, informative and a good read. What are your thoughts?

See @orphanani’s review here.

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