American narrative historian & Author
Steven Ujifusa is an American narrative historian. His second book, Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Fastest Clipper Ship (Simon and Schuster, 2018) tells the saga of the great 19th century American clipper ships and the Yankee merchant dynasties they created. China trader Warren Delano II, maternal grandfather of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, takes center stage in the narrative. Barons of the Sea has received positive reviews from The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and Kirkus Reviews. Nathaniel Philbrick has described it as “Full of remarkable characters and incredible stories… a fascinating, fast-paced history of America’s clipper ship era. Highly recommended.” In 2012, The Wall Street Journal named his first book A Man and His Ship: America’s Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Building the SS United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012) as one of the 10 best nonfiction books of the year.
He has appeared on National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, and numerous other media outlets. He is a frequent contributor to the urban history website PhillyHistory.org. He lectures on American business, urban, and maritime history at venues around the country. He received his undergraduate degree in history from Harvard and his masters in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania. He resides with his wife and son in Philadelphia’s Cedar Park neighborhood.
Taking David McCullough’s advice of writing 1,000 words a day.
I spent a lot of time reading and researching, but creative insights usually don’t happen while I’m on my laptop. They usually happen when I do something physical, such as walking around the city, biking, or rowing on the Schuylkill River. However, rowing in the early morning has been much harder to do since my wife and I had our son a year ago.
Talking small steps every day toward a much larger goal. Both of my books took five years to write, and I realize now they were massive agglomerations of tiny, daily actions.
Teaching my son to appreciate books and music.
My father’s motto: Where there is gratitude, there is civilization.
Philadelphia is an urban history layer cake. Every architectural style is there: colonial, Federal Victorian, Art Deco. And it’s chock full of fascinating stories, institutions, and personalities. I’m originally from the New York City area, but I’ve spent most of my post-college adult life here, and it’s here that I feel that I’ve really come into my own as a professional. And when it comes to living and breathing American history, this city is hard to beat. As the great architect and Philadelphia native Louis Kahn said: “A city is the place of availabilities. It is the place where a small boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life.”
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
Everything bagel with hummus, pesto, and hot sauce at the Green Line Café.
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – half-asleep, waiting for a noise to come from the baby monitor.
10:00 AM – in my home office writing. I’ve always been a morning person, and I feel I have the most creative clarity when the day is fresh.
12:00 PM – Favorite Lunch spot/meal?
Char grilled pork banh mi at Fu-Wah Mini Market or the yedoro chicken at Abysinnia Ethiopian Restaurant.
7:00 PM – cooking dinner with my wife, trying out a new recipe from the New York Times or (my new favorite cookbook) Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna. On Monday nights, I rehearse with the Orpheus Club of Philadelphia, my singing group.
11:00 PM – asleep, or trying to make it through a movie. Our last movie was Crazy Rich Asians, and I managed to stay awake till the end.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
Two cups of La Colombe coffee. And an afternoon cup of “Gunpowder Green” or Hu-Kwa tea.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
Spotify. I listen almost exclusively to classical music and jazz, with some American folk music thrown in. Bach is my go-to writing music.
What should everyone try at least once?
Try some form of gardening. It will teach you the importance of planning, patience, and how to deal with unexpected events (i.e., voracious West Philly squirrels digging up your prized lily bulbs).
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
Hiking in the Wissahickon Valley Park, driving around Chester County on an autumn day, or being on the water.