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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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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 (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“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.

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 PlanPhilly.com and PhillyHistory.org. 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.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The S.S. United States could only have been produced in America.
Richard Sorensen
This is a good story of William Francis Gibbs and his quest to build a super ocean liner.
ViennaPMS
This book provides excellent detail, great story telling, and it is factually accurate.
Robert Clark

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 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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18 of 19 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
This is a stunning book -- just fabulous! Kudos to the first-time author, Steven Ujifusa. Be careful when you start reading A Man and His Ship, because you'll regret putting it down when you have to attend to other necessities of life.

The "Man" of the title is William Francis Gibbs, a quirky Harvard dropout who went on to nautical greatness. Indeed, he fell behind at Harvard because he preferred spending time at the drafting table, designing hulls, as opposed to studying the curriculum assigned by his professors. Still, it's fair to say that Gibbs knew what he wanted to do at an early age. And then he did it, for the rest of his long life.

There's an interesting comparison here to William Boeing, a Yale dropout of the same era, who left New Haven and went West. Boeing got into the lumber business. From the lumber business, Boeing moved into building early airplanes out of wood. The rest is aviation history.

As for Gibbs, post-Harvard, he parlayed social contacts and moxy into contracts to work on large vessels -- and in those days, that was how the world moved its goods and people. A Man and His Ship tells a sweeping tale that arcs across 20th Century history, richly colored with small but exotic vignettes. For example, one of the first telegraphers to receive the Morse Code signal that the RMS Titanic was sinking was a certain David Sarnoff -- eventual builder of RCA Corp.

A Man and His Ship is nothing less than a page-turner, with fascinating stories and descriptions at every stage. My only (small) criticism is that the author devotes a mere two chapters to the work of Gibbs in designing the US Navy that fought and won World War II.
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