"Dynasties of the Sea" by Lori Ann LaRocco

Brian Gongol

"Dynasties of the Sea" is a business book with a soap-opera title. Fortunately, though, it delivers quite surprisingly well with an engaging and fast-paced read on the state of ocean shipping. One could be forgiven for expecting this to be a dry recitation of the minutiae of cargo ships and oil tankers. In reality, it would be an outstanding textbook in a course on managerial economics; it's segmented into brief profile interviews with twenty executives who either run the companies that own today's oceangoing freight ships, or the companies that manage those ships and their related industries. Author Lori Ann LaRocco manages quite well at extracting the deeper business instincts and decision-making analysis behind these executives' choices. Since they are involved in a highly cyclical industry with enormous capital costs and tough supply and demand curves, the businesspeople are challenged in more ways than people in other industries. You're not really going to learn how to make great business decisions by following the latest Facebook rants and Twitter postings of today's golden-boy tech entrepreneur -- they're a dime a dozen, and mainly succeed either by phenomenal instincts for lavish self-promotion or by cleverly applying some technical skills with computer programming. But coding an application, giving it away for free, and cashing out with an IPO before the company ever turns a profit -- well, that's not the world in which 99% of the world actually operates. Most of us are in much more mundane industries, often quite tangible, and almost always interested first and foremost in turning a profit. Given that the shipping executives are in one of the toughest industries of all, their insights are exceptionally valuable (even for those who wouldn't know a Very Large Crude Carrier from a life raft). "Dynasties of the Sea" offers a rare cross-section of the thoughts on the minds of leaders across an entire industry.

Verdict: Definitely recommended for the types of people who read business books for fun