cover image Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Fastest Clipper Ship

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

Steven Ujifusa. Simon & Schuster, $29.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4597-8

Ujifusa (A Man and His Ship) reconstructs the lavish social milieu of Yankee shipping magnates in this account of how clipper ships unlocked a new world of risk and riches in the mid-19th century. In the aftermath of the First Opium War, American merchants like Warren Delano and Robert Forbes sought to exploit the newly opened China trade by launching swift clipper ships that would bring tea from China to New York in less than 100 days. With their combination of sharp-ended hulls and flat bottoms, ships based on the Baltimore clipper model combined speed and cargo capacity, providing a unique solution to the needs of New York’s merchant elite. Crisscrossing the globe from New York to Hong Kong and California, the clipper ships and their voyages were the threads that bound together families like the Delanos and the Forbeses in complex webs of commerce and matrimony. Ujifusa is adept at evoking both the monotony and danger of sea voyages, where long days subsisting on salted beef and hard tack might be disrupted by “a solid wall of water” bearing down on a ship. Weaving together details of shipboard life, supporting figures, and the revolutionary changes brought about by clipper ships, this tale of industry will appeal to seafaring and commerce enthusiasts. Agent: Becky Sweren, Aevitas Creative Management. (July)