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The Wordy Shipmates Hardcover – October 7, 2008
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Garth Brooks: The Anthology Part 1 | Limited Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Essayist and public radio regular Vowell (Assassination Vacation) revisits America's Puritan roots in this witty exploration of the ways in which our country's present predicaments are inextricably tied to its past. In a style less colloquial than her previous books, Vowell traces the 1630 journey of several key English colonists and members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Foremost among these men was John Winthrop, who would become governor of Massachusetts. While the Puritans who had earlier sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower were separatists, Winthrop's followers remained loyal to England, spurred on by Puritan Reverend John Cotton's proclamation that they were God's chosen people. Vowell underscores that the seemingly minute differences between the Plymouth Puritans and the Massachusetts Puritans were as meaningful as the current Sunni/Shia Muslim rift. Gracefully interspersing her history lesson with personal anecdotes, Vowell offers reflections that are both amusing (colonial history lesson via The Brady Bunch) and tender (watching New Yorkers patiently waiting in line to donate blood after 9/11). (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Most reviewers found Vowell to be a lively guide through the frequently misunderstood Puritan period. Several wrote that she will draw in readers who might not otherwise pick up a book on the subject: what could be better than history with the voice of Violet from The Incredibles? But others found Vowell's treatment to be less dexterous; she slips in jokes where they don't make sense and too often explains the past through pop culture references despite her clear understanding of it through original texts. Those who enjoy traditional history books may be dissatisfied. Yet, as one reviewer noted, Vowell's irreverence frees her to explore the lives of neglected figures such as Anne Hutchinson and to illuminate aspects of the Puritan era that more serious authors might have missed.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
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When you learn about the Puritans and the Pilgrims in school, they seem so other worldy - but the way this books reads you see that they could be petty and uncharitable but you still admire them for their willingness to face hardships in the name of their beliefs and also for how truly ahead of their time some of them were! The times were grim in the material sense but the colonial atmosphere proved to be a fertile and lively place for theological revolutionaries.
The author is part Native American and naturally takes a harsh view of the way the original Americans were treated by these "religious" newcomers - (although as I'm reading Jared Diamond's book Collapse just now I'm reading about some other cultures that did much worse) - the Massachusetts Bay Colony still managed to succeed despite some of the awful blunders committed.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be entertained and educated at the same time!
The book is mostly devoted to the founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony but also takes us through the beginning of Rhode Island and Connecticut. As deeply informed as it is possible to be about the spirituality, mentality, motivations, and the everyday happenings in the lives of the colonists -- not to mention the historical context surrounding them -- Sarah Vowell did not write an ode of praise to the Puritans nor a judgment of them from the hindsight of modernity. Her analysis of New England's roots, prides, and failures and what they mean for us today is nuanced, sensitive, and sophisticated, and her way of telling the story is so full of humanity that I found myself going from loving John Winthrop with a fervent love to hating him bitterly and back again.
With the exception of, perhaps, a bit of choppiness in changing voices for very short quotes, I have no reservations in recommending this book to anyone with interest in American history, in religion, in politics or politica science, or in the general questions of human nature and social coexistence. If you get this, however, be prepared to be challenged, to be provoked, to be questioned -- and to question in return. If you do not, you will have missed the point.