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A Man and His Ship: America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the S.S. United States Hardcover – July 10, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“A terrific book! By entertaining, informing and ultimately inspiring, A Man and His Ship transforms its readers into passengers traveling across an ocean and through time. A skilled verbal navigator, Steven Ujifusa has charted an efficient and yet immensely satisfying course through a sea of facts, images and stories.” (David Macaulay, best-selling author of Cathedral, Castle, and The Way Things Work)

Steven Ujifusa has done something remarkable in his book, A Man and His Ship: he has brought back an era of American dominance in shipbuilding through the life of one of its giants: William Francis Gibbs. In some ways, Gibbs was the Steve Jobs of his era – a perfectionist with few people skills who nevertheless was single-handedly able to change his industry by the power of his vision and overwhelming professional competence. We need more public historians like Ujifusa working in business history. Using the highest research standards, he has written a great book that tells great story. (G. Richard Shell, Thomas Gerrity Professor, The Wharton School of Business and author of Bargaining for Advantage)

“Few of man's creations possess even half the romance of the passenger ships that once steamed across the world's oceans, especially the North Atlantic. That is why Steven Ujifusa's A Man and His Ship is such a compelling work.” (John Steele Gordon The Wall Street Journal (best nonfiction of 2012))

Much of Ujifusa’s book is a portrait in determination, as Gibbs’s plans for his big ship are continually tossed about in political, economic and personal squalls. A less single-minded man may have given up at numerous times. (Stephen Heyman The New York Times Style Magazine)

"In his debut, Ujifusa harks back to a time when men were men, and transatlantic ships were serious business...Written with passion and thoroughness, this is a love letter to a bygone time and the ships that once ruled the seas." (Publishers Weekly starred review)

"Ujifusa describes the construction of the ship in engrossing detail and provides informative digressions on the golden age of ocean travel, when liners carried millionaires, celebrities, and desperate refugees." (Booklist)

“The sea inspires obsessions in determined men, from Captain Ahab to Admiral Rickover. Steven Ujifusa introduces us to another – the naval architect William Francis Gibbs. His ingenious design of mass-producible Liberty ships helped win World War II, but Gibbs’ obsession was to build the world’s fastest, safest and most elegant Atlantic liner. He ultimately succeeded, but in a decade his masterpiece was obsolete and unprofitable. Ujifusa narrates this tragedy well, in all its technical, political and human dimensions.” (Admiral Dennis C. Blair, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Former Director of National Intelligence)

“Few of man's creations possess even half the romance of the passenger ships that once steamed across the world's oceans, especially the North Atlantic. That is why Steven Ujifusa's ‘A Man and His Ship’ is such a compelling work.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“A fascinating historical account…A snapshot of the American Dream culminating with this country's mid-century greatness.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“A marvelous narrative of America’s premier naval architect.”

Barrett Tillman, author of Enterprise

A Man and His Ship, a hugely entertaining re-creation of the age of the ocean liner, will leave older readers nostalgic, younger readers envious, and all of them engrossed in the drama of William Francis Gibbs as he fights to build the greatest ship of them all, the S.S. United States. The Cunard Line once boasted that ‘getting there is half the fun.’ Now Steven Ujifusa has given us the other half.” (A. J. Langguth, author of Driven West)

"A delightful account of the era of grand ocean liners and the brilliant, single-minded designer who yearned to build the greatest ocean liner of all."—Kirkus

"A fitting memorial to our greatest naval architect."—The National Review

“[An] absorbing, transporting new history…Ujifusa’s book is a portrait in determination, as Gibbs’s plans for his big ship are continually tossed about in political, economic and personal squalls.” (The New York Times (TMagazine))

About the Author

Steven Ujifusa serves on the Advisory Council of the S.S. United States Conservancy. He received his master’s degree in historic preservation and real estate from the University of Pennsylvania and his B.A. in history from Harvard University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451645074
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451645071
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Steven Ujifusa is an historian and a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous articles on architecture and urban history for and Since childhood, he has been fascinated by great American building projects, the people that made them possible, and the politics surrounding them.

When he is not writing, he enjoys singing, photography, rowing on the Schuylkill River, and travel.

A native of Chappaqua, New York, Steven received his undergraduate degree in history from Harvard University and a joint masters in historic preservation and real estate development from the University of Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Richard Sorensen on August 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone with doubts about America's future should read this book. It's not political tract, but an enthralling story about teamwork, ingenuity, persistence, and one of those quirky American individuals, William Francis Gibbs, who built the S.S. United States, the fastest and most beautiful ocean liner in the world. Along the way, Gibbs also designed and organized production of 70 percent of the U.S. naval ships in World War II. This is a true story and it happened not too long ago.

William Francis Gibbs was an introverted boy from a newly rich Philadelphia family that lost most of its wealth in the first decade of the last century. Young Willy fell in love with ships at age eight when he stood on the banks of the Delaware River and saw the gleaming new steamship, St.Louis. He is a protagonist you admire and care about. Among his more endearing qualities is that he became a Harvard drop-out. Gibbs would lock himself in his room to study engineering drawings of ships, ignoring his coursework and not mingling with his rich, more social classmates.

Throughout his life Gibbs remained an oddball, but became a central figure in the American achievement in the first half of the 20th century (his picture was on the cover of TIME in 1942). Ujifusa's book is worth reading simply for its portrait of that period. There are priceless vignettes. Gibbs and his brother, both in their late 20s, meeting with J.P. Morgan Jr. in his Wall Street office to show him their drawings and get money for the ships they wanted to build. A young army captain from Kansas, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sipping tea in a fancy New York apartment, lobbying the head of the U.S. shipping commission for space on a converted ocean liner in order to get his tank battalion over to the European front.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Craig R. Whitney on August 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"A Man and his Ship" takes us back to the days when it took five days to get from New York City to London (via Southampton) and tells the story of William Francis Gibbs, the American ship designer who was obsessed with the idea of building a ship that could do it even faster, faster than the British and French and German ocean liners that would be its rivals. His vision of a superliner built with top-secret technology was ultimately realized in 1953 in the construction of SS United States, whose nearly 248,000 horsepower could drive it through the waves at 38.32 knots, nearly 45 miles an hour. It was a stunning achievement - and so is "A Man and his Ship," which begins as Gibbs's dream began before World War I and ends with the great vessel, a stripped and gutted ruin, laid up in the river in Philadelphia awaiting its ultimate fate. Its admirers hope to make that something other than the wrecking yard.
Winning the "Blue Riband," the prize for the fastest Atlantic crossing, was not the only goal, though United States did that with a crossing in three and one-half days. For, as Ujifusa writes, United States was "designed for wartime use first and foremost" - as a troop transport that could outrun and outmaneuver enemy submarines. That meant that it was built with military-level technology: high-pressure turbines, and top-secret propellers (designed by a woman on Gibbs's staff), designs not declassified until after the Vietnam War. And it was built with money from the taxpayers - financial subsidies from the U.S. Government for its construction, which cost nearly $80 million, and for its annual operating costs as well.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "A Man and his Ship", Steven Ujifusa has written an excellent account about a relatively forgotten but extremely vital series of events and individuals who were key contributors to what has become defined as "The American Century". I was captivated from the very first sentence of the book ("The transatlantic ocean liner possessed a mystique now lost to the world.") which set the stage for one of the most fascinating and best written biographies since Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit". Beyond well -researched, Ujifusa's work is chock full of fascinating anecdotal footnotes that seem to magically yet accurately link a veritable who's who of historical figures, such as J.P Morgan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and F. D. R. , to the seminal vision and ambition of American's premier naval architect, William Francis Gibbs - hailed as "The Steve Jobs of his day" due to his superior technological prowess. Ujifusa's thoroughly enjoyable and casually readable narrative of Gibb's life takes the reader on a delightfully intriguing journey through the first half of the Twentieth Century by way of expounding on the intricacies of the then decisively important ocean liner industry, which played a larger role in international politics, in a pre-air flight age more than anyone today might understand. Fans of James Cameron's Titanic film will find an expanded historical context which may shed additional light on a possibly overlooked reason for Titanic hitting the iceberg - the internationally competitive quest of transatlantic ocean liners for "The Blue Riband" - the coveted award for the transatlantic speed record . Steven Ujifusa has delivered a well-crafted and thoroughly accentuated narrative of a forgotten era intertwined with the life of an inspiring visionary/dreamer.Read more ›
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