Sunday, January 6, 2019

Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World's Fastest Clipper Ship

By Steven Ujifusa

Simon and Schuster     2018
427 pages     Nonfiction
The Shortlist

Steven Ujifusa is a shipping historian, an expert in the history of clipper ships. Primarily, he is a lover of the ship, its design, and its speed, which Barons of the Sea describes in great detail. He also tells the stories about the captains of the shipping industry, including Warren Delano II and the Forbes brothers, who amassed such great fortunes in the years following the Revolution that they became the pillars of the American establishment for decades to come. Delano, for example, was the grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

These men believed that speed was of utmost importance in getting tea from China and later, goods to California. Thus they designed and built “the fastest, finest, most profitable clipper ships to carry their precious cargoes to American shores.” They also nefariously transported opium from India to China, where it was against the law.

While Ujifusa is a meticulous historian, he is also a great teller of tales. Before the book is over, we know all the details of the brief moment in American history when clipper ships ruled the seas. The moment, according to Ujifusa, was brief because it was soon eclipsed by steamships, railroads, and the telegraph. For their moment, however, the US clipper ships were the “most revolutionary machines in the world.”

History and shipping buffs will love Barons of the Sea. I received this from the publicist, and my copy will go to my history-loving brother.

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