The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
Submitted by Donna Sebly, HCPL staff
It probably wouldn’t hurt any of us to take something of a revisionist look at early American history, at least as far back as the Puritans who arrived on the Mayflower and the numerous ships that followed. While many of you might yawn at this prospect (“Rodger Williams yet again?”), before you raise your hand to your opened mouth, consider picking up a copy of Sarah Vowell’s most recent book The Wordy Shipmates.
Vowell, known for her stories on This American Life and other NPR venues, takes a look at John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and other Puritans, not so much in a new light, because the evidence she reveals is what students of American history already know, but more with new eyes, to allow us to see these old figures of history in a way maybe not quite thought of before. She presents more a reminder of what these folks were like and especially what they were like to each other.
Contentious, for one; bickering, for another; even at each other’s throats…well, yes, we might have known that already, since basics in the history of the Puritans tell us in no uncertain terms that Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson both left Massachusetts under profound pressure, and they weren’t the only Puritans found to be not quite pure enough to stay in early Boston. But in what might be criticized as a superficial revision, Vowell allows us to see once again how these very argumentative, battling, bickering theological hair-splitters laid some of the basic foundations for our argumentative, battling, bickering but ultimately united nation. She does this with wit and sarcasm, and some might say somewhat snarky words and views, but doesn’t that make all of this history more fun than the way in which our high school textbooks presented this story of the early British settlers in New England?
And if you like this new dimension added to American history, you can always try Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, which presents a fresh look at the assassinations of three Presidents of our country.