Title: The Wordy Shipmates
Author: Sarah Vowell
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Wordy Shipmates is Sarah Vowell’s unique look at the Puritans, the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She explores what it means to be a “Puritan” nation and what their history and culture means for the present-day United States with witty insights and her sharp sense of humor.
The Wordy Shipmates isn’t like any history book you’ve read before. Instead of a dry, long-winded book about the history of the Puritans and their settling of Massachusetts, this is a funny and insightful look at a period in history which doesn’t get a lot of attention. Vowell is clearly enthusiastic about the Puritans; she’s fascinated by them, and that emotion is passed along to the reader.
Vowell uses the Puritans as a metaphor for today’s society. She connects modern day society to the Puritans to help the reader see this impressive and often misunderstood group of people. Additionally, she helps the reader understand more about what’s going on today through her discussion of the Puritans. It’s clear that Sarah Vowell did a lot of research in order to write this book – there are a lot of facts within its pages, which she spruces up through pop-culture references.
Though The Wordy Shipmates is on one single topic, it’s best to treat each of the chapters as individual essays. Vowell has a tendency to repeat herself, and that can get frustrating if you are reading the book cover to cover. Additionally, each of the chapters is on a different period of Puritan history or culture, so it works much better as a group of essays with a common theme.
The most interesting part of The Wordy Shipmates is when Vowell addresses John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” speech. She traces the numerous times the speech has been used in American history and details how it has been re-interpreted, so that the current meaning is different than the original. It’s a very interesting discussion.
I enjoyed The Wordy Shipmates and will definitely be looking out for Sarah Vowell’s other books. This was my first Sarah Vowell book, and I’ve heard that her other books are even funnier, so I can’t wait to pick them up!