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A Man and His Ship: America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the S.S. United States

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | A Man and His Ship: America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the S.S. United States.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Steven Ujifusa(Author)

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

THE STORY OF A GREAT AMERICAN BUILDER AT the peak of his power, in the 1940s and 1950s, William Francis Gibbs was considered America’s best naval architect. His quest to build the finest, fastest, most beautiful ocean liner of his time, the S.S. United States, was a topic of national fascination. When completed in 1952, the ship was hailed as a technological masterpiece at a time when “made in America” meant the best. Gibbs was an American original, on par with John Roebling of the Brooklyn Bridge and Frank Lloyd Wright of Fallingwater. Forced to drop out of Harvard following his family’s sudden financial ruin, he overcame debilitating shyness and lack of formal training to become the visionary creator of some of the finest ships in history. He spent forty years dreaming of the ship that became the S.S. United States. William Francis Gibbs was driven, relentless, and committed to excellence. He loved his ship, the idea of it, and the realization of it, and he devoted himself to making it the epitome of luxury travel during the triumphant post–World War II era. Biographer Steven Ujifusa brilliantly describes the way Gibbs worked and how his vision transformed an industry. A Man and His Ship is a tale of ingenuity and enterprise, a truly remarkable journey on land and sea.

A terrific book! By turns 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 Macauley, author of The Way Things Work and Unbuilding)"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"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“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)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, Bargaining for Advantage:) Steven Ujifusa received his AB in history from Harvard University and a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania. His first book, A Man and His Ship, tells the story of William Francis Gibbs, the naval architect who created the ocean liner SS United States; The Wall Street Journal named it one of the best nonfiction titles of 2012. His new book, Barons of the Sea, brings to life the dynasties that built and owned the magnificent clipper ships of America’s nineteenth-century-era of maritime glory. Steven has given presentations across the country and on the high seas, and has appeared as guest on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR. A recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s Literary Award, he lives with his wife, a pediatric emergency room physician, in Philadelphia. Read more about him at StevenUjifusa.com. 

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Book details

  • PDF | 448 pages
  • Steven Ujifusa(Author)
  • Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (June 4, 2013)
  • English
  • 6
  • History

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Review Text

  • By Richard Sorensen on August 24, 2012

    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. Gibbs hauled before a Congressional committee during World War II, accused of war profiteering and, with complete vindication, getting the committee to back down.Ujifusa wonderfully captures not just Gibbs and his place in history, but the ship itself. He rightfully calls the S.S. United States a masterpiece, and describes in lucid, beautifully-written detail all that went into it. To this day, it stands as a tribute not just to the genius of Gibbs, but to American technology, organization and competitive will. Early in his career, Gibbs had come to believe in the superiority of the smaller, higher speed turbines developed by GE and Westinghouse. He had applied American mass-production techniques, including a wide range of off-site suppliers, to quickly and inexpensively churn out cargo ships in World War II. The S.S. United States could only have been produced in America. Ujifusa's account of the ship's maiden voyage in 1952, when it shattered the Queen Mary's trans-Atlantic record by 10 hours (in a three and a half day voyage), is one of the most thrilling in the annals of competition.As in the best of stories, A Man and His Ship is about more than inevitable triumph. There is the financial failure of Gibb's father. Going to sea has always involved risk, and often tragedy. Mr. Ujifusa's narrative includes the impact of the Titanic disaster, and he describes the horrific fire on the ocean liner Morro Castle off the New Jersey coast in 1934 that killed 136 people. Commerce and shipbuilding went into decline during the Great Depression. Gibbs had fierce battles with Washington throughout his career.He was a difficult personality. In the late 1990s I had the privilege--and pain--of working with Steve Jobs. In reading Ujifusa's portrait of William Francis Gibbs, I thought, "He's like Steve." Gibbs hired a talented team of New York designers for the elegant interior of the S.S. United States, but he insisted on okaying "every piece of furniture, bolt of drapery and square foot of carpet." He would go to the New Jersey Meadowlands with a tuning fork to make sure he had just the right pitch for the ship's whistles. Thank goodness America produces people like that and provides them freedom and resources to do great things.

  • By New River Valley Outdorsman on September 15, 2016

    I grew up in NY City at the end of the era of the great ocean liners. Whenever I drove down the West Side Highway I would search for the beautiful ships that docked there, most especially the "Big U," SS United States. The very first book I bought, in 1953, was about this ship. Ujifusa has created a memorable portrait of this phenomenal technological achievement, and of the enigmatic and driven man who designed and built her, William Francis Gibbs. It is at once historically accurate and emotionally compelling, a literary effeort to be proud of. Perhaps no one but a man like Gibbs could have built the greatest ocean liner of them all, and had he not lived, it never would have happened. The Big U is the apical achievment not only of the 1950's, but in terms of marine architecture, of all time. Nothing has surpassed her, and nothing ever will. That she is sitting at her moorings in Philadelphia today, rusting away, is not only a crime but an insult to the memory of her designer and the thousands of people who built her. Ujifusa has done a great service to America by writing the story in such a readable and entertaining, moving way.

  • By B. King on August 12, 2012

    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. Indeed, the Gibbs firm designed every destroyer escort, destroyer and cruiser constructed by the Navy in World War II. Gibbs designed every Liberty Ship -- of which over 2,700 hit the waters, meaning one every 18 hours over a five-year period. Gibbs designed most of the large landing ships for the Navy as well. And more...In total, over 70% of the Navy's ships in World War II were Gibbs designs. And of the other 30% of vessels, they borrowed heavily from Gibbs for hulls and propulsion. Think in terms of the "fast," 32-knot battleships and carriers. Absent Gibbs, they'd have been "slow" battleships and carriers, if they existed at all.When one looks at World War II, it's astonishing to think that this level of intellectual and industrial creativity and organization came from the mind of one Harvard dropout. (Then again, it's equally astonishing to consider how much US air power of World War II came from Boeing, founded by a Yale dropout.)When the war ended, Gibbs went on to other things... including construction of the SS United States. It's a classic -- and eventually tragic -- story all by itself, and forms the key theme of this fine, comprehensive book.Eventually, the products of Boeing eclipsed the products of Gibbs in hauling people across the oceans of the world. But A Man and His Ship is an important piece of historical scholarship, reminding a modern audience of another time and age -- of how human ingenuity and hard work rose to great challenges, and mastered the most difficult tasks.A Man and His Ship is a spellbinding read for the interested layman, and certainly for any and every professional who deals with the sea, with transportation issues, with industrial organization, large-scale systems design and procurement, and more.


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