April 26, 2013

Book Review: Grand Ambition: An Extraordinary Yacht, the People Who Built It, and the Millionaire Who Can't Really Afford It


G. Bruce Knecht (Hooked, The Proving Ground) returns to the seas in Grand Ambition: An Extraordinary Yacht, the People Who Built It, and the Millionaire Who Can't Really Afford It,  focusing this time on the rarefied yachting world of the super-rich. It's 2008, and the yachting business is booming: Doug Van Allmen wants his fifth yacht, the Lady Linda, to be the best American yacht ever built, and he determines to spare no expense; the 187-foot boat has a projected coast of around $40 million.

Then the economy starts crashing, and a nervous Van Allmen puts $100 million into what turns out to be a Ponzi scheme in an attempt to recoup his losses. After that investment collapses, the fate of the Lady Linda and the thousands of blue-collar workers employed in building her is at stake.

Knecht gracefully interweaves the stories of the Van Allmens and their incredibly wealthy friends with the lives of the men working on the Lady Linda, from the Australian surfer to the Mississippi welder to the illegal Honduran immigrant. The progress (or lack thereof) on the yacht reflects the state of the U.S. economy as production drags on well into 2012.

Will Van Allmen even be able to afford the Lady Linda if it's ever completed? What will the lack of demand for enormous yachts do to the companies and workers whose livelihoods depend on them? Knecht teases out the political and monetary ramifications of the Lady Linda and all those who are connected to her; but leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves if Van Allmen's ambition was too grand.

I was rather surprised how much Grand Ambition interested me. It's not something I ever in a million years would've picked up on my own, but Shelf Awareness sent it to me, and I decided to give it a shot. I guess it's the same reason I watched "The Fabulous Life of ______ " on VH1 in college: a voyeuristic interest in the lives of people whose wealth so far surpasses anyone that I know that it's mind-boggling.

Knecht does a great job of pacing the tale of the yacht-building, and really bringing out the people in the story - from the quiet, hardworking welder and the Honduran doing the surface coating (who already has lung trouble in his early 20s because it's such a toxic job) to the Van Allmens and their Ponzi-scheming lawyer friend.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Sure! I really enjoyed it.

Which book has surprised YOU recently?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. The cover image is an Amazon affiliate link. Thanks for supporting Quirky Bookworm!