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Book 1: The Wordy Shipmates

October 14, 2009

Just finished the newest book by Sarah Vowell called The Wordy Shipmates. It tells the tale of the Massachusetts Bay Colony puritan colonists and how they were different and less well known compared to the story of the puritans of Plymouth Rock.

I read a review of the book that critiqued her for displaying history in a way that expects the reader doesn’t know the subject. Apparently Americans suddenly started getting interested in history right before the book came out. I knew a few of the names, but I doubt most people would. The three main players are John Winthrop, the often politically vexed soon-to-be mayor of the colony who led the group across the Atlantic in the first place; Roger Williams, the hardcore puritan (dissident?) who was banished from the colony only to start Rhode Island, the first true home of religious freedom on the colonized continent; and Anne Hutchinson, the stay at home religious zealot who decided a woman should be able to counsel on religious and political rights all while raising 15 children and delivering the babies of the local women. Hutchinson is later exiled by Winthrop as well, forming a formidable duo in the open yet belief stifled Rhode Island plantation.
The book is accessible as Vowell has shown she is more than capable of doing in her past efforts, but I took away much more of her personality from this book than the others I have read. I was looking for a straight history book combined with the wit she has always shown, but instead I read a gushing emotional tale of her love for the quotes poured over a million times already by Harvard academics that live on the very land of which they speak. This is not to say that I did not enjoy it, I just wish the whole book didn’t read like she was speaking every word in a gossip column.

I learned a whole lot from this book and probably would not have been sucked into the topic quite so whole heartedly by another writer or medium. If you are interested in the beginning of this political country and wonder how we can still be such religious wackos to this day then you should learn about just how over the top we were at the beginning. Our country was founded on the bloody soil of prior tenants by God fanatics who thought there was no place for them in a deeply devout Europe only to find that there were levels of faith they did not all agree upon. That story is somewhat well known, its the extent that surprised me. I wanted to love this book, but I came out just liking it because it was a bit too comedic at times.

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