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Grand Ambition

An Extraordinary Yacht, the People Who Built It, and the Millionaire Who Can't Really Afford It

About The Book

G. Bruce Knecht, former reporter for The Wall Street Journaland author of The Proving Ground and Hooked, describes the creation of an outsized yacht in a sweeping narrative centered on the men and women who made it happen.

Doug Von Allmen, a self-made man who grew up in a landlocked state dreaming of the ocean, was poised to build a 187-foot yacht that would cost $40 million. Lady Linda would not be among the very largest of the burgeoning fleet of oceangoing palaces, but Von Allmen vowed that it would be the best one ever made in the United States. Nothing would be ordinary. The interior walls would be made from rare species of burl wood, the floors paved with onyx and exotic types of marble, the furniture custom made, and the art specially commissioned.

But the 2008 economic crisis changed everything. Von Allmen’s lifestyle suddenly became unaffordable. Then it got worse: desperate to reverse his losses, he fell for an audacious Ponzi scheme. Would Von Allmen be able to complete Lady Linda? Would the shipyard and its one thousand employees survive the financial meltdown?

The divide between the very rich and everyone else had never been greater, yet the livelihoods of the workers, some of them illegal immigrants, and the yacht owners were inextricably intertwined. In a sweeping, high-stakes narrative, the critically acclaimed author of The Proving Ground and Hooked weaves Von Allmen’s story together with those of the men and women who are building his yacht. As the pursuit of opulence collides with the reality of economic decline, everyone involved in the massive project is forced to rethink the meaning of the American Dream.

About The Author

Photograph by Cary Davis

G. Bruce Knecht is a former senior writer and foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Author of The Proving Ground: The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race and Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish, he has also written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and Conde Nast Traveler. An avid sailor, Knecht raced across the Atlantic in 2005 on the yacht that broke the 100-year-old transatlantic race record. He lives in New York City.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 5, 2013)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416576280

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Raves and Reviews

“Illuminative and utterly engaging.”

– The Wall Street Journal

"Reads like a novel of suspense and financial intrigue, proving that fact is often stranger and more unbelievable than fiction. A great read and a cautionary tale for all of us whose ambitions exceed our means.”

– Nelson DeMille

"Bruce Knecht is my kind of reporter--a master storyteller with a great eye for the tales of our time. Grand Ambition is centered around the building of a huge yacht, but it is ultimately about our bipolar society--the rarefied lifestyles of the very, very rich and the day-to-day realities of blue-collar laborers who have never worked indoors or been paid more than $20 an hour."

– Tom Brokaw

"Knecht deftly tells a tale of craftsmanship and conspicuous consumption, and he challenges us to think about the boundary separating ambition and hubris, creativity and narcissism. Above all, he paints compelling portraits of the dedicated craftsmen who designed and built Lady Linda."

– Steven Ujifusa, author of A Man and His Ship

"If this lively book doesn't 'lift your boat,' nothing will!"

– Steve Forbes

“The pacing and the narrative hold your interest, and you find yourself engrossed.”

– Houston Chronicle

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