The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell


Don’t pick up The Wordy Shipmates expecting a grown-up version of Thanksgiving-centered lesson plans from grade school. Sarah Vowell offers an accurate portrayal of the Puritans in this well-researched non-fiction title, which regularly quotes primary source material and is delivered in a fast-paced, humorous, narrative style.

Vowell introduces us to colorful characters who pop off the page, real people from our country’s past who demand attention and dare to be remembered. She brings history to life. I especially loved learning more about Roger Williams and the founding of Rhode Island. Here’s this crazy zealot who, despite his own fanatical beliefs, believes in and advocates for the separation of church and state so wholeheartedly that he is exiled. He’s a man well ahead of his time.

My only complaint: There are a few moments when the commentary veers far off topic with an unnecessarily venomous slant. It seemed as if she was actively looking for opportunities to insert a jab. Don’t misunderstand: I enjoy sarcastic, sardonic humor. I also think there’s no need to be cruel. (You’ll definitely find out how deeply she hates Ronald Reagan).

So yes, once in awhile Vowell gets soapboxy; but for the most part, it’s nice to walk through the connections she makes, how the past ties in with current events. Vowell is passionate about her topic, and that really shines through when reading The Wordy Shipmates. I couldn’t help but think how much more interested in history I would have been in school if our texts had expressed even half of Vowell’s enthusiasm. Sarah Vowell believes the Puritans are worth getting to know, and I think she succeeds in convincing her readers of the same.

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