The Wordy Shipmates
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The Wordy Shipmates is New York Times¨Cbestselling author Sarah Vowell¡¯s exploration of the Puritans and their journey to America to become the people of John Winthrop¡¯s ¡°city upon a hill¡±¡ªa shining example, a ¡°city that cannot be hid.¡±

To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means¡ª and what it should mean. What was this great political enterprise all about? Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual, and moral ancestors of our nation? What Vowell discovers is something far different from what their uptight shoe-buckles-and- corn reputation might suggest. The people she finds are highly literate, deeply principled, and surprisingly feisty. Their story is filled with pamphlet feuds, witty courtroom dramas, and bloody vengeance. Along the way she asks:

* Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christlike Christian, or conformity¡¯s tyrannical enforcer? Answer: Yes!
* Was Rhode Island¡¯s architect, Roger Williams, America¡¯s founding freak or the father of the First Amendment? Same difference.
* What does it take to get that jezebel Anne Hutchinson to shut up? A hatchet.
* What was the Puritans¡¯ pet name for the Pope? The Great Whore of Babylon.

Sarah Vowell¡¯s special brand of armchair history makes the bizarre and esoteric fascinatingly relevant and fun. She takes us from the modern-day reenactment of an Indian massacre to the Mohegan Sun casino, from old-timey Puritan poetry, where ¡°righteousness¡± is rhymed with ¡°wilderness,¡± to a Mayflower-themed waterslide. Throughout, The Wordy Shipmates is rich in historical fact, humorous insight, and social commentary by one of America¡¯s most celebrated voices. Thou shalt enjoy it.

Customer Reviews:

  • Fun, educational, and captivating
    I wasn't really sure what I was in for when I got this book, but I have to say I'm so glad I went for it! The writing is intelligent while remaining irreverent and chatty, bringing a subject that hasn't necessarily interested me into relevant analysis for the experience of an American (especially a Massachusetts resident) today. I especially recommend and prefer the audio book version (The Wordy Shipmates) in which the author reads, because she lends great personality to the writing. I feel that I've learned a lot through this book, and highly recommend it to just about anyone - it shed light on interesting subject matter while remaining easy to digest. Great for a book club!...more info
  • "Jokey" history with constant interruptions
    Sarah Vowell specializes in what might be called "jokey popular history." She's serious about her subject but she tries to wrap it up in a -- well duh! style of writing interspersed with many personal asides, some relevant, some not.
    Here, she writes about the founding of the colonies of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the colorful characters who inspired them. This quickly draws her into abstruse theological differences that today seem highly irrelevant. But she succeeds in demonstrating that the ideas of men like John Winthrop and Roger Williams did much to form the kind of country the United States eventually became -- and continue to live on today, although much altered by history.
    Though she admires both men, she also judges them by 21st century moral standards and finds both wanting. Of course, the ultimate blot on the record of these fine-speaking avatars of Christian morality was the appaling massacre of Native Americans at Mystic Fort when women and children were burned alive.
    I found the material interesting but the author's radiophonic "This American Life" interruptions were often intrusive. She tends to ramble. One and a half thumbs up for this one....more info
  • Sarah Vowell - The Wordy Author Extraordinaire!!
    Sarah Vowell exhibits the qualities of an exceptional wordsmith in the audio book version of her book THE WORDY SHIPMATES. With a constant tongue-in-cheek, she interweaves into the story of the Puritan's journey to America and their influence in today's influences and occurrences with back stories on the participants and those who influenced the Puritans who first ventured to America's shores.

    It isn't often that one gets to listen to an exceptional writer, one who obviously knows her stuff and, even if on some accounts she may be playing with a critical view of the past, as comprehended by her attitudes, the manner by which she ties everything up with a bow is a joy to behold.

    Unfortunately, her actual voice during the reading of her book tends to be rather mono toned at times, and rather nasal, with a slight lisp. This isn't enough to dissuade a tolerant listener from buying the audio CD version, for I have bought an extra copy as a gift for a friend, but enough to recommend that one read the book and just imagine someone like Dorothy Parker or even Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Bell Jar CD, reading her words instead.

    I nonetheless found it an enjoyable listen, and I eventually found after the first CD or so that her lack of vocal qualities a little more bearable. ...more info
  • A Little More Self-Aware Than I Like
    It could just be me, but I just feel like Sarah is a little too self-aware of her role in the media, and that she's trying too hard to be the person she thinks we're expecting her to be.

    The book is well-written and researched, as I have come to expect from her works. I just got tired of the tone after a while. I still give it 4 stars, because it really is a very good book. Just not a great one....more info
  • Our Patriotic Ancestors Unravelled!
    Nathaniel Hawthorne said it best about the Puritans examined, vilified and honored in this no-nonsense, all-points-of-view historical treatment by the iconoclastic Sarah Vowell, "Let us thank God for having given us such ancestors; and let each successive generation thank Him, not less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages."

    A pre-requisite for reading this book is the ability to hold focus, as the author dances between past and present with historical figures, events and analysis, not always in a linear fashion. But the work is well worth the effort, for here is an author who forces us to think about just much our ancestoral legacy has shaped our domestic and foreign political policy in and beyond America. And if the reader is too lazy to do so, well Ms. Vowell covers innumerable bases before she concludes with a realistic slam-dunk, home-run vision of Puritans shaping a new land.

    It all begins with some terse debunking of our stereotypical, Brady-bunch Thanksgiving dinner style picture of Puritans sitting down with the native Indians. We get a full account of the Catholic-Protestant debate back home in merry 'ol England to the point where we realize that emigration was better than the looming death waiting off-stage had they remained in England. Ms. Vowell also gives us, through examination fo the writings of John Winthrop, a superb analysis of a successful leader in those times, an intelligent, dogmatic and even dictatorial guy who knew how to spin Biblical verses into sermons that guaranteed communal agreement and obedience to authority, meaning himself, of course. The vision is clearly set forth, one to which any American might gravitate in dark times: United we stand, Divided we fall. Simple!

    A large portion of this account covers the hugely antagonistic relationship between John Winthrop and Roger Williams, the latter a more excessive version of Puritanism than even those staid Puritan figures who found entertainment in attending Church several times a week. Williams attempted to teach the Native Indians in Providence the concept of original sin; the results of that effort don't make for pretty reading, understandable as it may seem if one stops long enough to really think about hearing such an idea for the first time.

    Finally, we have a brief but potent treatment of Anne Hutchinson, the Puritan "brain" of the bunch, the original American Oprah, who preached that one could only know if one were saved by "feeling" it. Excommunication to the Bronx followed her vociferous preaching; the uninhabited Bronx, not the presently densely populated city within a city.

    Satire, alternatingly droll with interspersed raucous humor, reflection, challenge, and meditation fill these pages with so much history connected to Nixon, Reagan, 911 and so much more that the reader occasionally has to stop or risk overload. But it's an overload that is far too infrequently heard and a welcome, refreshing burst of fresh air whirling through older significant times to hopefully create a historical future different because of this notable reading experience. Finely, finely done!

    Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on February 9, 2009

    ...more info
  • Review of " The Wordy Shipmates".
    I recently read "the Wordy Shipmates" by Sara Vowell. It basically was Ms. Vowell's telling of the early settlement of Massachusetts Bay colony and environs centering around the character of John Winthrop. She does a good job of discussing the paradox of his thought and presenting the value system of Winthrop's world. She presents the major characters of this drama with much editorial comment such that she is no longer a neutral observer. She has an easy story-telling style which is easy to follow and although one knows the story, one wants to follow the story through to the end. One looks forward to what Ms. Vowell will say about the next character presented.

    She has a need to tell us too much about her background and her social world. Her polemic on her opinions of certain politicians and political party serve as a distraction to the reader and make one turn pages to a change of the topic quickly.

    The book was a different, entertainng history which should not be one's first introduction to the historical period.

    Thomas J. Keenan...more info
  • Yep, too wordy
    I love Sarah Vowell, but this effort gets too caught up in reporting and lacks just a little bit of entertainment. Her quirky obsessions are amusing most of time, but not necessarily this time. Yet its still better than 90% of the tripe out there....more info
  • Get the Printed Version, if you're not sure
    Given the list of guest voices, and the usually entertaining Sarah Vowell, who I've seen on The Daily Show a number of times and seems to have a great sense of humor, I thought this audio-book would be a good listen. It's not. Mainly read by the author herself, Vowell simply does not read the book with the same kind of enthusiasm I've seen her display on television. The jokes, which may be a bit funnier on the page, fall flat due to a slow, lackadaisical delivery. And, I must say this, Vowell has a high voice and lisp, which is utterly unsuited to this format. With all the talent on-hand, she would have been better off having one of these fine actors do the main narration in her place.

    After slogging through the first disc, I knew I wouldn't continue with the rest of the book. Vowell is a talented writer, and I think the printed version of this book is probably a fine read. But go ahead and read it yourself....more info
  • Exceptionalism
    If you know a reader who hates reading history because it's boring, read and recommend Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates. Vowell tells the story of John Winthrop and his fellow shipmates from the Arbella, who arrived in America from England to practice their religion. Winthrop's 1630 sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," provides the context for Vowell's chatty and irreverent exploration of these people who followed the Bible and set a foundation for American life. Winthrop's "city on a hill" has become a part of our identity that defines our country as an exceptional place with a destiny to perform good acts for the world. Vowell explores the way Anne Hutchinson was treated, and how Roger Williams built a community with tolerance at its center. Vowell's contemporary take on this era and her conversational and quirky writing style makes The Wordy Shipmates a reading adventure rather than a plodding narrative.

    Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
    ...more info
  • Jam packed with info
    I love all of Sarah Vowell's work. I love how she find what could be dry, boring stuff and both entertains while she imparts the information, and also makes it so relevant to current events.

    This newest book is no different. I learned so much that I didn't know about pre-Revolutionary New England. I didn't know much if anything about the founders of Boston, and I live within an hour's drive of the city - I've walked the Freedom Trail and all that, but this predates the Revolution by a nearly a century and a half.

    I do feel it was a tad more disjointed than, say, Assassination Vacation, and so the tie up, as the "most helpful" reviewer has mentioned, is not as neat and tidy. I also was sad when it ended - which just means that I was enjoying Vowell's writing and wishing it would go on.

    I would highly recommend it to any fan of Vowell's, and to anyone who enjoys history served up in an entertaining and slightly snarky manner....more info
  • A Great Audio Book for Peopl Who Don't Like Audio Books
    I'm writing about the audio version of the book, and so will gloss over some of the virtues of the book itself.

    One of the great treats in Vowell's work is that it's so conversational-- erudite and yet intimate at the same time. It's no surprise that Vowell completely captures that in her reading of her own work. Audiobooks often play like radio theater, or a Reading Fraught With Import. Pop this one in the car cd player, and it's like taking a trip with a smart, funny traveling companion.

    There is so much nuance in the human voice, and nobody but the author is ever going to get it right. Vowell's own POV contains little quirks and dry twists of humor that few could deliver well.

    The guest voices are fine, and while their name value is interesting, their contributions are brief block-quote reads that could have been anyone.

    Vowell, as always, excels in understanding and explaining with an equal eye for strengths and weaknesses. Her politics are clear, and while you may not always agree, they're plainly stated as her preferences and not some higher truth. She is particular adept at seeing connections between events, ideas, beliefs and people, so that even the history that you already know becomes more interesting as you see where it ties in to other things.

    This is am audio book for people who don't really like them, because it gets everything just right. As such, it would make a great gift-- there are plenty of people out there who won't realize they'd like this until they have it....more info
  • Puritans made interesting. Not impossible as one might think.
    Sarah Vowell is a GenX Barbara Tuchman, revivifying people long turned to worm food.

    I recommend getting the book on CD in addition to or instead of the book because you get to hear Sarah's smart-and-sexy lisp and the voices of a host of talented actors bring John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and many others to life.

    I just wish Vowell had been writing when I was in high school. I might have gotten better grades in history.
    ...more info
  • Please just calm down, Sarah
    Although I politically disagree with her, I really enjoy Sarah Vowell's books. She is a good writer, and I admire her ability to pull seemingly disparate subjects together into an illuminating whole. However, no matter how much I tried, I could not make myself enjoy this book. I learned a few things, but one of those things is how annoying a really hysterical opposing political voice can be. I don't have any illusions that America is perfect and everything we do is right, but we're certainly not the hideous criminal mess that she seems to think we are. The breaking point for me came with her attempt to compare America right now with the Soviet Union in the height of the purges ("I have heard the screams") Really Sarah? Really. Yes, that's fair, because I remember when the staff members of NPR and the Village Voice and every other Republican-hating media group got hauled away in the night and taken to a gulag...Oh, except for that never happened. And I remember when the leaders of the Democratic Party disappeared...Oh, except for that never happened either.
    I understand the desire for a real drama, the sense that you are manning the barricades against evil, but really now. It just comes across like a hysterical child lying on the ground screaming and kicking. I just desparately hope once Barack Obama is in the White House she can just calm down and get back to writing rational thought-based books once again. ...more info
  • Clever and interesting look at history
    If you are one of those 28% who thought George W. Bush was doing a great job as president then you will probably hate this book. That isn't to say that the rest of you will love this book. Beyond her political quips, there is a style to the writing of Sarah Vowell that is unmistakable and which you will either love or hate. She frequently wanders off topic with jokes about "Happy Days" or her nephew Owen. But if you enjoyed her other books and like her style then you will be in for a treat.

    But first, this book is not about the Pilgrims or Thanksgiving. She skips ahead to after the Pilgrims have landed and discusses the other Puritans who landed north of Plymouth Rock and settled in Boston and Salem. In fact, what she is really aiming to discuss is the writing and experiences of John Winthrop, one of the key Puritans, the one who wrote about "the city on the hill" that Ronald Reagan so misunderstood. The book is about the struggles of Winthrop to control Massachusetts and his religious colony when faced with men like Roger Williams who found most of the Puritans not pure enough but still believed that the state had no business interfering in religious beliefs. Williams founded Rhode Island (after being kicked out of Massachusetts by Winthrop) on the basis of separation of Church and State at a time when disagreements about the proper indenting in the Bible could lead to wars. And if your knowledge of Anne Hutchinson doesn't go beyond her river or parkway in the Bronx, you will be fascinated by her story.

    Ms. Vowell's writing style keeps the book moving, although it does drag in parts, and we end up with a history lesson that could have been quite dull in other hands. Like "Assassination Vacation" we end up learning a lot more than we though we would have when we started without feeling that we have been force fed a history lesson. As I said earlier, if you enjoy the writing style of Ms. Vowell, then I think you will enjoy this book.

    =====Review of Audio Version======
    Before I start, I should mention that I don't really like audio books. I find that I tend to think about what I am hearing. With a book, I can simply stop reading for a moment and do my thinking. With an audio book, it is more difficult as the reader keeps going in spite of my no longer listening. It's also hard to skim through an audio book and skip the boring parts. Truthfully, I got this audio book by mistake, not realizing that this was not the print version. That being said...

    Sarah Vowell does a noble job of reading her book. However, some people may find her voice annoying after a few hours. She makes a good attempt at speaking clearly but I found it hard not to think of Violet Parr from "The Incredibles" as I listened. The occasional musical interludes were pointless enough to get me to push the next button.

    My conclusion is that if you enjoy audio books (and I assume you do since you are looking at the audio version of this book) and you are a fan of Ms. Vowell then you will surely enjoy this audio book version. If you are not already familiar with Ms. Vowell's work, then I would recommend Assassination Vacation before this book. ...more info
  • Who said The Puritans can't be funny?
    NPR commentator Sarah Vowell takes on early American history in The Wordy Shipmates, an occasionally amusing, often thought-provoking study of the Puritans and other American colonists.

    Vowell does a nice job of drawing from the lessons of the past to inform the reader about what's going on in our world today (the most powerful analytic tool history gives us). She's too quick at times to make snap judgments and simplistic declarations -- a common failing of amateur historians -- but those missteps aren't enough to spoil the book as a whole.

    I suspect that part of this book's enjoyment was the lively reading given on the audiobook -- I'm not sure if it would have been as pleasant a read in printed form. But at any rate, it was an enjoyable and sometimes enlightening experience....more info
  • History and Humor come to life.
    In this well produced Audiobook, Sarah Vowell gives a great perspective on the people, beliefs, and lifestyles around the first settlers were coming to America. The author's witty sense of humor combined with an overwhelming amount of factual data lends itself well to a history lesson like you've never been taught in school. While the author does tend to throw her own anti-religious bias into the story at times, and more than once is more than happy to take a stab at the Rebublican party anytime modern day politics is brought up, that can be overlooked due to the incredible insight she breathes into the lives and struggles of the men and women that helped form what we now know as America.

    I agree with the other reviewers that at times, it can be a bit "wordy", but the book isn't long to the point of exhaustion. There are many celebrity voices used to read quotes, and the music between chapters is a nice touch. I'd recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in the beginnings of this country but also has a sense of humor and doesn't mind dealing with the biased leanings of the author on occasion....more info
  • great!
    truly I don't know of my own knowledge about the contents of the book, but my daughter was completely delighted to receive it. Her eyes lit up when she saw it. We both like this author....more info
  • A brilliant and truly unique voice
    Sarah Vowel provides a fresh and unique voice in capturing the "roots" of american ideology, as well as multiple connections to the contemporary. Insighful, creative, and well captured narrative about U.S, history and it's current cultural formations....more info
  • Just the facts, Ma'am. Just the Facts. PLEASE!!!!
    When I was an undergraduate, I took a class in Horace's Odes. Every single one of my papers came back with the notes "It's very tedious reading about your personal life and pop culture references." Sadly, I had two years of undergraduate experience to contend with so I wasn't able to reverse 12 years of high school and 2 years of undergraduate writing where I managed to get away with throwing personal stories into papers. Eventually I learned how to write papers about the topic at hand without mentioning my ex-girlfriend, my cats, my roommates, etc., etc.

    Sadly, Sarah Vowell never took that class or any class like it. If she did, it didn't take. Ostensibly about the puritans, this book is all about Sarah Vowell. In the first couple of disks I learned about the speech that sent the Puritans on their way, the background of English religious infighting (fairly common knowledge but some need it), and the "City on the Hill" speech. That's what I learned about the Puritans.

    About Sarah Vowell I learned that she has an apartment in New York, she really liked the movie Reds. She didn't like Reagan. She really didn't like Reagan. She thought that Mondale lost the election in 1984 because he talked about the other aspects of The City on the Hill speech as opposed to the fact that he ran on a platform to raise taxes (no seriously. he did. Minnesota will never elect a president because we value honesty WAY too much.) She had a really bad day on 9/11. And she grumbled a lot during Reagan's funeral. At parties, her NPR friends thought she was nuts for wanting to study the Puritans but she found some of their writings comforting. She watched a lot of Happy Days as a kid. And when asked who the most hated general was in the American REvolution, she didn't know (ok that one brought the "when we pretended to fight Cornwallis. Hate that guy." line which is mildly amusing.) And she also liked The Brady Bunch.

    For every one piece of information she manages to throw in about the puritans, she inserts dozens of annoying stupid tales about the LIFE OF SARAH VOWELL. And seriously, Sarah Vowell is an annoying woman. And before you think that I'm some Sarah Palin redneck sniping at the elitist liberal New Yorkers, know that I am a liberal New Yorker (actually I'm more a Minnesotan in my political inclinations. Loved Wellstone. Not sure about Franken.) and Obama is the culmination of many years of dreaming about who I wanted to be president. I'm just not an NPR snob that thinks that everyone who disagrees with me is automatically stupid or inbred.

    Ultimately, her book might be good but her condescending mannerism and self-involvement kill it. I would give it two stars but I was listening to the audio book and her annoying little girl voice makes the thing much more grating....more info
  • See, history CAN be interesting
    Early American history is by nature confusing and subsequently dull to most readers. Ms. Vowell's book changes the stereotype and along the way corrects a few misconceptions. Her always readable style is a combination of personal experience, acerbic reflections, and sound--if not extensive--scholarship. Her humor is well directed and always a pleasure to read, and her passion for the early Americans is obvious. It is much like a conversation with a very bright and witty friend. In all, it is an excellent and spirited introduction to the people, indignities and aspirations that still shape the American character. Perhaps her only lapse is a failure to talk about American Puritan beliefs on sexual conduct. Were they as repressive and rigid as we now imagine? Whatever they were, they are still part of us....more info
  • Great Idea but Does not Fully Deliver
    I will admit that I enjoyed this book very much. I think Sarah Vowell did a great job of explaining how the Puritans who first settled here in 1620 & 1630 have had a continual and ongoing impact on the U.S. Her irreverent tone and tongue in cheek approach to telling their story and her own search for their modern day remnants is very well written.

    I do disagree with a number of the points that argue that Vowell argues that the somehow the Puritans created this modern religious right wing colossus. Not only does she spend a great time discussing her own Pentecostal upbringing, but she does a great job of explaining how both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were to serve as role models for many dissenters down the line.

    The books one great weakness is that it does tend to meander from topic and gets diffuse at certain points. There is a lot of filler and the story often times becomes non-linear it seems. But all in all if you're a history buff and especially if you enjoyed Assassination Vacation you will enjoy this! ...more info
  • Not one of Vowell's best efforts
    After thoroughly enjoying "Assassination Vacation," I was looking forward to Ms. Vowell's next effort. However, I was disappointed by "The Wordy Shipmates". Vowell, in her other works, consistently throws in enough personal anecdotes and pop cultural references to keep her reader entertained as well as informed. Vowell does this throughout the first half of the book but as it drags on she merely seems to rehash the well worn story of the Puritans conflict with Native Americans as well as the Anne Hutchinson split. Ms. Vowell merely seems to be regurgitating the highly recommended Nathaniel Philbrick's 'Mayflower' rather then adding her usual humor and vitality and ever present macabre sense of humor. Overall, not her best effort, but I still look forward to her other books, and she probably will do better next time. ...more info
  • Put this on the reading list for US history students, and on your list, too
    I have been quoting this book for a month now--it's so perfect during this ground-breaking election season. So much of our early history is eerily apropos to today. Well, maybe it's not so eerie, considering the influence the Winthrop era players have had on the founding of this country. Vowell is adept at tying the 17th century with the 20th and 21st centuries, and provides big enough chunks of original text to help make Winthrop and Williams and the rest of the wordy folks come alive, and for us to see them as three-dimensional people who may have been self-righteous but who also worried deeply about doing the right thing.

    I checked this out of the library but am finally turning it back in and will buy a copy for my family and one for my history-buff mom. In addition to being a lively read, it's fairly short, considering its depth, so it won't get stuck on the bedside table with a bookmark in the the second chapter, like those tomes you thought would be good for your brain but turned out to be better for your sleep....more info
  • A fresh look at the Puritans
    As usual, Sarah Vowell makes a seemingly dull subject very interesting. She argues persuasively that the Puritans were not, as they have come to be seen, dullards and bores. They loved literature and politics, and reveled in debate and conversation. Sure, Vowell, says, they didn't swing and party, but they were passionate about their faith and their community. Vowell's writing is, as always, colloquial, not academic, and she makes clear her empathy for these hardy ancestors. The book peters out toward the end, as the Puritans are joined by other settlers who are not so pious and their passion dissipates. Still, a good read for 7/8s of the book....more info
  • Vowell Is A Historian's John Stewart
    Witty, droll, and insightful, she took on the early Massachusetts Bay Colony--the Puritans who settled Masschutsetts Bay--Salem, Boston, Cambridge, etcetera ten years after Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock--but puts what they wrote and did in the context of their time and what occurred before and after: from John Wycliffe's fourteen century English translation of the Bible to the present, including Thanksgiving episodes in Happy Days and President Bush's justification for invading Iraq.
    Vowell had a lively bunch to work with: Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, John Cotton, and a score of others, complex characters all. She praises them for courage, perseverance, and rectitude but shows their failings as well, including a great deal of hypocrisy and cruelty, especially towards Native Americans. However, The Wordy Shipmates is not some liberal diatribe against these mythical icons. Vowell acknowledges the great debt she and we owe them--from free speech to civil rights--and freely confesses she likes them and would love to have the bunch over for a lively if contentious Thanksgiving dinner.
    Some disclaimers are in order. First, to appreciate this excellent work, one must relax and get into Vowell's mind. Though enlightening, this book was written to entertain. Don't buy it if you are looking for some score to settle. It's too complex and balanced for that. Secondly, prepare yourself for its lack of chapters. Every few pages has a break set off with an oversized initial capital--a place to put the book down for dinner--but otherwise it's a 248 page essay. But that adds to the experience. The one suggestion I make is the book could be improved with an index, which would allow the reader to revisit favorite passages without rereading the entire book (an index would not assist the midnight student doing a last minute term paper--this is not a reference book....more info
  • Sara
    Brilliant book, Sara is amazing and takes you on a ride with her. she is amazing...more info
  • Boring
    I saw Sarah Vowell on CSPAN and a talk show and thought she is so witty and clever that I would buy her book. I gave up about half way through it. She's clever alright,but the subject (pilgrims and their religous motivations) finally wore me out. Who cares???...more info
  • Delightful and illuminating historical romp
    I'd always enjoyed Sarah Vowell's segments on This American Life, so I expected I would enjoy her books as well. Reading her latest, The Wordy Shipmates, I was as delighted as I hoped to be. Vowell has a deep appreciation for history, a keen eye for irony, and a sharp wit. Her distinctive charm is her voice, both figuratively and literally. Her speaking voice has the innocent earnestness of a Peanuts character, while her "voice" is incisively sardonic commentary, rich with wacky metaphors and ironic juxtapositions. The combination is masterful deadpan. My only worry was that even great deadpan, unbroken, would get monotonous, but it was not so. Her wry observations were leavened with sincere ones, and her passion for the subjects of her study was all the more contagious for her truly earnest moments.

    The subject of this book was the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts, a subject made quite fascinating by her expositions of different facets of their story. I learned much (for instance, I never before appreciated the differences between the Pilgrims and the Puritans), and was introduced to great characters -- John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson -- of whom I had known little more than their names. Vowell's sketches, while sardonic, are also well-grounded in source material, which is often quoted. In the audio book, read by Vowell herself, the quoted parts are read by actors, an interesting effect, as you get to recognize the voices after a while. Rather than a strictly chronological sequence, she presents a series of expositions on different characters and themes, which interlock and reinforce one another to paint a full history by the end. Unlike most historians who endeavor to be objective and detached, Vowell wears her distinctive point of view on her sleeve. She relates personal anecdotes and sentiments reflecting her subject, and at times makes ironic juxtapositions with more modern events with an unabashed subjectivity. For instance, her meditations on the theme of a "city on a hill", articulated in a famous sermon by John Winthrop, recur in accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but also jump to Reagan and Kennedy and other brief excursions into American exceptionalism. I don't see this as detracting from the history at all, in fact, it makes it more memorable. Just as a columnist with an explicit viewpoint can be just as illuminating and credible as an "objective" journalist, so is Vowell's style of history as illuminating and credible as a drier scholarly history. Her distinctive retelling of their stories brings these historical characters to life. A greatly entertaining and educational read. ...more info
  • Sarah Vowell at her best!
    In this, Sarah Vowell's latest book, she continues to amaze us with her facts about the puritans and the pilgrams .....and all of those characters in our American the delightful captivating way that only Sarah can make history riviting. keeping us reading non-stop. This is a book you must read, and as the quote from the dust jacket says, "Thou shalt enjoy it."...more info
  • An irreverent look at our Puritan legacy
    As a New Yorker and self-professed member of the media-elite who hails from a conservative, Western, small town, Pentecostal background, Vowell delights in historical contradictions and deep roots.

    NPR contributor, humorist and author of "Assassination Vacation," and "The Partly Cloudy Patriot," Vowell focuses a lens of irreverent respect on the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This is the larger group that followed the Pilgrims in 1630 and established Boston. They were somewhat more business-oriented than the Pilgrims and considered themselves members of the Anglican Church rather than Separatists like the Pilgrims.

    It's partly for this that Vowell is drawn to them. "Maybe it's because I live in a world crawling with separatists that I find religious zealots with a tiny bit of wishy-washy, pussy-footing compromise in them deeply attractive."

    Looking over their legacy - the Puritan work ethic, separation of church and state, the concept of personal salvation - Vowell focuses on three outsize personalities.

    John Winthrop led the group on their journey to the New World, became governor of Massachusetts and left a massive diary. Roger Williams was banished for his opinions, particularly his insistence that government not interfere in religious matters, and left to found Rhode Island. Anne Hutchinson was banished too after a trial over her ideas of personal salvation made her seem dangerously witch-like.

    Vowell takes us through the turbulent history of those days - the Indian wars and shifting alliances, problems with England and the Crown, internal squabbling and the founding of Boston. But her real interest is on the concepts that have echoes throughout our history.

    The Puritans' Calvinist belief in themselves as the chosen people has come down to us pretty well perfectly preserved. Winthrop's sermon to his shipmates, "Christian Charity," exhorts them to show themselves as models of Christian fortitude, "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill." In other words, the eyes of the world will be watching.

    Though this sermon was barely mentioned in Winthrop's day, it has since served up quotes to numerous politicians. One of Reagan's favorite images was "that shining city on a hill."

    Vowell revels in the double-sided whammies of zealotry. She mines Winthrop's sermon for its exhortations to love one's enemy, to help each other at all costs, to show justice and mercy. And explores the underside of this confident righteousness morality - enforced conformity, intolerance of dissent, an iron-handed holier than thou perspective.

    Roger Williams, a man I was taught in school to think of as a moderate, was an argumentative zealot, who believed that everybody else was wrong. He didn't want government interfering in his religion though and for that we thank him. As for Anne Hutchinson: "She suffers the same fate in the historical record as the Pequot; her thoughts and deeds have been passed down to us solely through the writings of white men who pretty much hate her guts."

    Vowell makes connections between the founders and our national character - from Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr. to the community of New Yorkers after 9/11. Our system of government, from electing a president to rustling up the Patriot Act, has its roots in the Puritans.

    Vowell's examinations of these connections and the history itself is serious and funny, quirky and contemplative. Sure, some of the religious distinctions and heated arguments are pretty dry, but if anyone can enliven them, it's Vowell....more info