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Review: The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell

I can’t summarize this book effectively, so I’m just going to quote from the back:

“To this day, Americans think of themselves as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means – and what it should mean. Who were these people who are considered the political and spiritual and moral ancestors of our nation? What was this great enterprise all about? What Vowell discovers is something far different from their uptight shoe-buckles-and-corn reputation. 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.”

And so on. Let me say that this book is absolutely hilarious. I found myself laughing regularly throughout Vowell’s journey through Puritan history. She makes history that is normally dull and confusing (even for me, who loves history) into a riot of a book that I just wanted to keep reading. She also relates the past to the present and shows us a fair amount of horrifying examples where history repeats itself – or worse, when American presidents take out bits and pieces of Puritan speeches and ignore the important bits about being good to your fellow citizens.  I’m not sure the book has potential for being read and understood a hundred years from now given the pop culture jokes, but it’s certainly amusing now.

Sarah Vowell does a brilliant job of showing us how history is relevant while keeping us entertained and informed. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this one. Buy it on Amazon.

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