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The Wordy Shipmates (2008)

by Sarah Vowell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,5151404,123 (3.67)251
To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but author Vowell investigates what that means--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.--From publisher description.… (more)
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» See also 251 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
I like Sarah Vowell, and I think that Ms. Vowell and I would be friends in real life were we to meet. After all, I too have gone on vacation purely as an excuse to visit key historical areas and points of interest. I get her sense of humor, her dry delivery, and her interests because they align so closely to my own.

As such, I love the opportunity to delve into the mind of Ms. Vowell with one of her books. The Wordy Shipmates is an oldie, but when the subject matter occurred four hundred years ago, it doesn't matter when you read it. So, with nothing much to do during this time of sheltering at home, I took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Puritans in the eyes of Ms. Vowell.

As expected, I learned more than I expected, like the fact that there were different sects of Puritans, one of which settled in Plymouth and the other in Boston. The Wordy Shipmates focuses mostly on the Bostonian Puritans but includes the settlement of Rhode Island, Indian massacres, and political feuds. She juxtaposes the past with what these same sites look like now, bridging the past and the present in a way that few historians are able to accomplish. The differences, sometimes shocking, between past and present, serve to emphasize her point that to call the United States a Puritan nation is misleading.

Audiobooks are the only way I will experience Ms. Vowell's books. Her writing style is so unique that I feel only she can do her writing justice when narrating. After all, she knows where the natural pauses are, as well as when to add low-level sarcasm or when to say a line straight. Plus, listening to her words in her voice makes the experience more like genuine story-telling while learning a little bit more about our nation's history.

While not my favorite Vowell novel, The Wordy Shipmates is still enjoyable. By focusing on John Winthrop and his Boston Puritans, Ms. Vowell allowed me to connect some of the dots between pieces of history I remembered with those that were new to me. She also does an excellent job of placing her field of study in context with the greater world, so that readers get a better feel for what is happening not just in one specific location but around the globe. In all, The Wordy Shipmates was an entertaining and educational way to pass a few hours.
  jmchshannon | Apr 29, 2020 |
It was interesting to read early New England history that wasn't focused on the Pilgrims. Instead, this book is mostly concerned with the Puritans who settled in the Boston area. The lighthearted tone is helpful in getting through the slower and more talky portions of history, but it's a bit harder to take when you get to the part that involves the massacre of native children.

BTW, I've stayed at the hotel with the Mayflower water slide and the Plymouth Rock hot tub. It's a fun but surreal experience to be sure. I'm quite certain the Pilgrims would not have approved. ( )
  duchessjlh | Feb 18, 2020 |
Sarah Vowell makes even the most obscure history as accessible as dishing on the neighbors. Differentiating between the first band of folks coming over on the Mayflower seeking religious freedom and tolerance and those that followed them who sought to impose their own framework of ideas on the new world without a whole lot of tolerance does not whet the appetite of most readers. I started the book because it was Sarah Vowell—I have enjoyed other books by as well as her work on NPR—but almost stopped the moment I realized what the subject matter was. Fortunately, almost immediately she hooked me with her insight, humor and her knack for translating the language, intent and emotional life of the early Americans into contemporary terms that does not sell short who they were or what they believed. Her love of history is evident on every page. I knew virtually none of the people involved in this corner of history but I felt compelled to follow their stories none-the-less. The blend of politics and fear and hope and paranoia and just plain craziness that was mixed together into the cement of America’s cultural foundation is vividly rendered and ended all too soon. The ending felt a little bit rushed but I think that’s just because I was happy. ( )
  KurtWombat | Sep 15, 2019 |
I usually like Vowell but the pilgrims are not my cup of tea. ( )
  mahallett | Jun 17, 2019 |
I went to Sarah Vowell's reading from this book several months ago and finally got around to listening to the audiobook. Though the contemporary references can be a little goofy, she is extremely talented in making the potentially dry subject of the Massachusetts Bay colonists alive and interesting. ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
Maybe there's something to be said for learning about the pilgrims, after all—especially from an instructor as entertaining as Vowell.
added by sduff222 | editBitch Magazine, Kelsey Wallace (Mar 28, 2011)
 
As always with Vowell, her commentary is apt and frequently, startlingly
insightful. I would suggest that this book might well be used as
a sort of introductory text to the ideas of the Puritans particularly for
undergraduates. Because she engages so cleverly with popular culture,
it may help provide a successful approach to the dense and highly
intellectualized writing of this group of Puritans. For the nonspecialist
in this period, the book could serve as a reminder of what continues to
be so fascinating about the ideas of the New England Puritans of the
seventeenth century and the impact their thought continues to have in
popular discourse.
added by sduff222 | editReviews in Religion and Theology, Mary Coleman (Sep 1, 2009)
 
Sarah Vowell is a problem. She’s a problem like Sarah Palin, Cyndi Lauper and Kathy Griffin. She’s annoying. Or, really, she’s double-annoying, because she styles herself as annoying — provocative-annoying — and if you become annoyed by her you seem to be conceding the point. She’s gotten to you.

Take “The Wordy Shipmates,” her fifth book. Vowell has integrated her sarcasm, flat indie-girl affect and kitsch worship — refined in print and on public radio — into a pop history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Known for her adenoid-helium voice, Vowell is a genial talker but an undisciplined writer. This new book mixes jiggers of various weak liquors — paraphrase, topical one-liners, blogger tics — and ends up tasting kind of festive but bad, like Long Island iced tea.
 
Drawing on letters, essays, and sermons, Vowell offers a penetrating look at the tensions between John Winthrop, John Cotton, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and others as they argued about the role of religion in government and everyday life. They saw themselves as God's chosen people, a credo that set the tone for American history and notions of manifest destiny that have led to all manner of imposition on other lands and cultures. But they also vehemently debated separation of church and state and founded Harvard, even as they pondered the destiny of what Winthrop referred to as the "shining city on the hill "A book dense with detail, insight, and humor.
added by sduff222 | editBooklist, Vanessa Bush (Oct 1, 2008)
 
At times dense, at times silly, at times surpassingly wise.
added by sduff222 | editKirkus Reviews (Aug 1, 2008)
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Vowellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dzama, MarcelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laroche, NicoleDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levinthal, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seow, JackieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, Jeffrey L.Map artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight. . . Delight is to him whose strong arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges. Delight, —top-gallant delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven.

—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Dedication
For Scott Seeley, Ted Thompson, and Joan Kim
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The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.
Quotations
I'm always disappointed when I see the word "Puritan" tossed around as shorthand for a bunch of generic, boring, stupid, judgmental killjoys. Because to me, they are very specific, fascinating, sometimes brilliant, judgmental killjoys who rarely agreed on anything except that Catholics are going to hell.
Behind every bad law, a deep fear.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but author Vowell investigates what that means--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.--From publisher description.

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