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Publisher's Summary

The Wordy Shipmates is New York Times best-selling 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" - a shining example, a "city that cannot be hid." To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but 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. 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.
©2008 Sarah Vowell (P)2008 Simon & Schuster
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Audiophile on 10-25-09

I love Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell's innate medium is audiobooks and radio (NPR). In her squeaky voice, she recounts history with passion, irony and humor intertwined with curent events and pop culture. There is nobody I can think of who is quite rivals her in contemporary commentary. She is a modern version of Mark Twain. If she ever decides to auction off on eBay her attendance at a dinner party, I will certainly be one of the bidders.

This book provides a good companion piece to Philbrick's Mayflower which chronicles the Pilgrims from the point of view of the Indian Wars. Vowell focuses on the cousins of the Pilgrims in Boston and the Winthrop legacy. But the real hero of both books turns out to be Roger Williams who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious freedom and civil liberties / property rights for the Native Americans. Thus, whatever cynicism one has for the Puritan settlers, it is leavened by the pride in the early recognition in this country for the values of freedom. She also balances the strictness of the Protestant ethic with the great devotion to education embodied in the founding of Harvard College that initiated the common goal of educational excellence that is so much part of American ideals.

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11 of 11 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Mari on 05-29-09

Vowell Nailed It Again

Once again, Vowell has managed to bring American history to life, "as only Sarah Vowell can". (Sorry, I just had to say that)
She has brought up some of the most compelling issues surrounding the first european settlers, particularly their religious and philosophic debates with each other and those outside their particular brand of puritanism. She is helped in the narration by the usual cast of Upper West Siders (Bogosian, Keener, et al) which helps keep the book moving along nicely.

Vowell is an amateur historian in the classic sense. She is not formally trained, but her vast knowledge comes from her own curiosity about this country's origins. She ably bounces forward and back in time, commenting freely on current events and viewing the past with a decidedly contemporary lens. She threads in her views on current politics, just as she did in "Assassination Vacation" and "The Partly Cloudy Patriot". She is developing a terrific way to view and understand history - as one other review (Baron's) said, "History as reported by the Daily Show". That says it all.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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