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The Wordy Shipmates

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  16,310 ratings  ·  2,234 reviews
The Wordy Shipmates is New York Times best-selling author Sarah Vowell's exploration of the Puritans and their journey to America to become the people of John Winthrop's "city upon a hill"—a shining example, a "city that cannot be hid."

To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means—and what it should mean. What was this great
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 7th 2008 by Riverhead Books
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Diane Librarian
This Sarah Vowell book about the Puritans in 17th century New England is perhaps her most Sarah Vowell-ian work. By that I mean, it's interesting but meandering, it's humorous but it's dense, it's historical but also modern.

Much of the book focuses on John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Vowell said she was interested in Winthrop and his shipmates in the 1630s because "the country I live in is haunted by the Puritans' vision of themselves as God's chosen people, as a beac
Okay, here goes:

I’m torn on The Wordy Shipmates. I’m still a relative newbie to Sarah Vowell. With Assassination Vacation, I had that new love vibe going on. All that gushy ‘You’re so awesome, I’m so glad that I found you, where have you been all my life’ feeling. With The Partly Cloudy Patriot, I moved to that next step in a relationship, where you start to learn about the person and some of it reminds you why you fell in love and then sometimes it’s all like ‘My God, you can stop talking now.
One of the great things about living in New York City was the parties. Most parties had a pretty broad spectrum of people in attendance; still, finding interesting (and fun) people to talk to always presented a challenge (nowadays, I just log onto Goodreads). Examples:

Incoherent punk musician who hasn’t slept or taken a shower in, I’m guessing, three days.

Wall Street type who rhapsodizes about hedge funds for 20 minute and whose enthusiasm soon becomes sandpaper on my brain.

Surgeons who describe
I can hardly believe that I'm going to write these words: I did not enjoy The Wordy Shipmates. Anyone who knows me and my love of Sarah Vowell will be *shocked* by this, as am I. But that fact remains that I found it boring. A slog. Too totally Puritanical.

I know what she was attempting to do - put a human face on the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, draw parallels to our modern evangelical (is that phrase an oxymoron?) Christian country, and make sharp distinctions between th
Mar 23, 2009 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who like belt buckles on things other than their belts.
Recommended to Jeff by: My brain.
To love me is to know me, and to know me, is to know that I love Sarah Vowell. I think it was my good friend Kelsey who said, "You have to read this book!" She was talking about Take the Cannoli. I read it, and I loved it. Then I read Partly Cloudy Patriot, and loved it as well. I listened to This American Life almost religiously in the hopes of hearing one of her radio essays. So when I heard her read a snippet of The Wordy Shipmates on This American Life a couple of years ago- I nearly drove ...more
I think it's funny how there's always a moment during a Sarah Vowell book where I go, 'oh yeah! She just writes american history!' It came pretty early on in this one, too.

This is not my favorite of her books. It's a lot more american history, and a lot less Sarah Vowell being a smartass about american history, than I prefer. I mean, I was into it, and I finished it, and I kept all the Puritans whose names begin with Ws straight, but I don't know. The whole appeal of Sarah Vowell for me is not
Nicholas Karpuk
Sarah Vowell's quirky 12 year old voice almost requires me to read her books in audio form. This is the second book of Vowell's I've purchased in audio format, and beyond some of the glitches (damn you iTunes!) it's the preferred way to go.

This book is probably the driest thing I've ever read by Vowell. Normally her The American Life bits and her previous books are a lot more anecdote-heavy, which was always a major selling point. She has a knack for taking some really diverse topics and relatin
Steven Harbin
I love Sarah Vowell. There's no other way to put it. This book is a perfect blend of historical essay and pop culture lit. Vowell's take on the Puritan Massachusetts Bay colony and Governor John Winthrop shows the "shining city on the hill" ideal as the Puritans saw it; which is not quite the way that Ronald Reagan meant it when he co-opted the phrase in the 1980's. Vowell is one of the few authors in the world today who can tie the two visions together and show how the people we are today can r ...more
Aug 05, 2008 Spiros rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who enjoy a healthy dose of humor with their outrage
Shelves: arc
Sarah Vowell is of Cherokee descent, and was raised in a Pentecostal community. This would, to a large degree, explain her fascination with Puritans. I am of Catholic descent, and could give two shits whether there is such an entity as God or not. This would, to an equally large degree, explain my total uninterest in Puritans; they didn't eradicate my ancestors, and they had no part in shaping my weltanschaung. To the extent that I regard them at all, I think of them as a bunch of kooks, a benig ...more
Alison Dellit
I loved this book.
Ok, so I love the complex, intensely intellectual, weird world of 17th century English Protestantism, when a whole bunch of ideas about the way the world did work and should work and could work were mixed in with intense biblical study and result was this passionate textual arguing and synthesising a set of sometimes strange and sometimes brilliant ideas. It was the discovery of this world, through Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down, that gave me a lifelong interes
Shivering William
I have a disease. An "I can't remember shit about history" disease. I try to exercise this blight out of my system every once in a while by reading less dry, light on the dates, heavy on the scandal, humorous historical accounts. Sarah Vowell is one of the better prescriptions.

With her infectious fascination of days gone by and adorably odd voice, it's hard not to pay attention.

One thing I've learned so far is things have been unbearably whack since the puritans landed . . . nay, things have bee
You never really learn much about the history of the American colonies post-thanksgiving through pre-Salem witch trials. This book fills that gap. I think the most provocative thing about this book is how puritan culture still permeates through-out the American Psyche to this day. Much of American attitudes and culture were all founded upon the principles that governed the lives of those original founders. This influence can be felt in how Americans view many issues ranging from gay marriage to ...more
Patrick Gibson
We don’t have a problem yet Sarah. But I am working on one. I am finding myself reading entire novels in-between your chapters. We’re still lovers—but I need to let you know I am seeing other people. I hope the passion resurrects but your expedition into the realm of Puritanism is leaving me limp in the brain. I won’t give up. Yet.

Old stuff:

Sarah was on The Daily Show again the other night hawking the arrival of her latest in paperback. And as Jon pointed out—it’s the same book she promoted on
The only Sarah Vowell I've ever "read," was/is _Take the Cannoli_. All my other exposure to her writing has been via audio: _Assassination Vacation_, _The Partly Cloudy Patriot_, and now _The Wordy Shipmates_. I have to admit, sadly, that I was let down. Generally the audio versions of her books are so good. They feature readers like Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, and (my personal hero) David Cross. And while the audio version for "Shipmates" does feature the likes of Bill Hader, John Hodgman, and ...more
Nov 15, 2008 Janice rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: moms. and others
Shelves: his-tory
my one problem with this book was this: considering that i could "listen" to sarah vowell all day long, the fact that she included no chapter breaks meant that i looked up from this book to realize that i hadn't gotten out of bed yet, and that the day had driven headlong into what could almost be described as evening. heavy price to pay for a few pages over coffee.
and i suppose that, really, that is no problem at all; except that the lack of chapters also seemed, in this case, to equal a lack of
Debbie Zapata
I chose to read this book immediately after reading The Winthrop Woman because Vowell's topic was the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the same era. I had hoped to learn more about the history of those days. I did, in a way, but Ms. Vowell's points were usually hidden among attempts to be clever, and I tired quickly of sorting through such chaff to find the wheat. Is there truly a need to quote Monty Python regarding King Charles I? That sentence, on page 219 of my edition, ruined the erudite point M ...more
In The Wordy Shipmates Ms. Vowell half, or maybe three-quarters, succeeds with the transformation from memoirist with a history bend to a historian who occasionally injects her own story into the text. Vowell comes off like a particularly accessible high school teacher giving a series of lectures on early American history. She works hard to enliven the past and connect the implications to the modern world. Her passion for the subject is apparent, but I could have used more conventional historica ...more
You may only know Sarah Vowell by her physical voice, as she is a regular contributor to Public Radio's "This American Life" and the voice of Violet in "The Incredibles." It is a unique voice, at once childish in pitch yet edgy.

Apparently, when she writes, the child is left at home with a babysitter. Hers is a voice of barbed observation combined with painstaking research on her chosen subject.

I decided I had to read "The Wordy Shipmates" after reading a review on that contained a quote
"Let us thank God for having given us such [Puritan] ancestors; and let each successive generation thank Him, not less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages."

- Hawthorne, of all people (quoted on p. 58)

This book is light. It's pleasantly chatty and engaging, but it's pop history at its poppiest. It suffers in comparison to Nathaniel Philbrick, whose Mayflower picks up at the exact moment Wordy Shipmates leaves off; Philbrick isn't as easy to read, but his history i
I've greatly enjoyed all of Vowell's books previous to The Wordy Shipmates.

That first sentence is probably not a ringing endorsement for book, I know. Truth be told, there were aspects of Shipmates I enjoyed very much. The story of the Puritans coming to the New World has always been an interesting one to me, especially in light of the way I was taught the story versus The Way Things Actually Were. Vowell does a nice job connecting the Puritans struggle and beliefs with America today, with pit s
Jackie "the Librarian"
This is NOT as easy-reading as Sarah Vowell's other books. Instead of having multiple topics, Sarah focuses on just one, the Massachusetts Bay pilgrims, who came after the more famous Plymouth Rock ones.

She digs into this dry subject, and while managing to make her usual wry observations, reading quotations from Governor Winthrop and other colonists isn't as fast going as her usual conversational style.
The topics are serious stuff - the colony's precarious independent rule as granted by the cha
Jan 22, 2010 Kate rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs and politicians
Shelves: book-club
Sarah Vowell. I love her. She has a great voice one that I could listen to for hours. I thoroughly enjoyed her as Violet in the wonderful movie "The Incredibles" and when she does her thing on NPR's "This American Life," which is quite often.

I felt lucky I was able to snag an audio version of this book from my local library, however (and it's a big one), after getting bored less than half way through and struggling just to finish, this one will not be on my list of books to recommend to others.
Chad Bearden
This book barely scrapes by with four stars, based mostly on the duel facts that I've become a pretty big history buff in recent years, and that I happen to think Sarah Vowell is pretty neat.

If you're not a fan of Vowell, I can't really see myself recommending this book to you. Its a rather meandering account of the Puritan's early attempts to sculpt the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the new American wilderness, using only their tough puritan work ethic and their oppresively burdensome religious
I feel frankly terrible about giving this one only 3 stars, which is like a pentacostal giving Jesus 3 stars. The book is smart, funny, well-researched. But it never really hit the high notes of ASSASSINATION VACATION, in part because unlike that earlier masterpiece here Vowell is essentially teaching a really good class instead of putting together a remarkable book. That is, where AV tackled her travels across various moments in history and spots on the landscape with her sister and her nephew, ...more
For me, this book was really a 4.5, but I think that you really have to be interested in early American history to be as entralled with this book as much as I was. To hear conservative social commentators tell it, the United States is still "the city upon a hill" of John Winthrop. But, as Sarah Vowell discovers in The Wordy Shipmates, Puritans were very different from the impression that contemporary society has created. While being claimed by Fundamentalists of the Religious Right, Vowell point ...more
Vowell's book rates as anecdotal pop history at its most average. I'll give her credit, she tries pretty hard to make this - the story of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony - appeal to a wide audience. There's a good deal of clever wordplay and an engaging, 'gee isn't that strange' sense of humor; and she makes a point of drawing lots of parallels to our present-day social and political idiosyncrasies, some of which are interesting. But I was constantly annoyed that Vowell doesn't try ...more
I saw Sarah Vowell on the Daily Show promoting this book, and had one of those "I haven't read her yet why?" moments. And it was the right reaction to have.

I figure everyone wholeheartedly loves something to a degree that makes other people look at them with that wary sideways look sometimes. I live and breathe the Red Sox, my best friend is obsessed with vampires, I hear there are people who sit through entire NASCAR races by choice, and not just the really good crash highlights: we all have so
Practically everyone who comments on this book about the Massachusetts Bay Colony says that the earlier books by Sarah Vowell were better -- funnier, more original. I agree, so I won't dwell on the comparison to the wonderful "Assassination Vacation." Suffice it to say, I still find Sarah Vowell both entertaining and enlightening. She writes on her personal reflections about historical events, and that's good enough for me.

My personal revelation in this book was becoming better acquainted with R
Interesting topic. Her style of writing was tricky for me at first, wasn't quite sure when it was appropriate for me to laugh but I eventually got the hang of it. I learned a lot tho. It is interesting to me how the Puritans fled to "The New World" in search of religious freedom; they were dissenters of the Catholic Church in England. Yet, once they got here they were not quick to grant freedom to their own dissenters, i.e. Anne Hutchinson ( who was cray cray in my opinion but that's beside the ...more
Reading Sarah Vowell always makes feel like such an a-hole. I think she's so so funny and I love listening to her on NPR. Unfortunately, I am totally unable to stick it through one of her books. Always, always, always I make it about 1/4 of the way in and can't finish. It's funny, because while I'm reading that first fourth I'm totally down -- I read aloud sentences, I look up the people she's writing about, etc. but I always get distracted by her asides and find myself coming up with my own asi ...more
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Sarah Jane Vowell is an American author, journalist, humorist, and commentator. Often referred to as a "social observer," Vowell has authored several books and is a regular contributor to the radio program This American Life on Public Radio International. She was also the voice of Violet in the animated film The Incredibles and a short documentary, VOWELLET - An Essay by SARAH VOWELL in the "Behin ...more
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“The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief.” 37 likes
“I'm always disappointed when I see the word 'Puritan' tossed around as shorthand for a bunch of generic, boring, stupid, judgmental killjoys. Because to me, they are very specific, fascinating, sometimes brilliant, judgmental killjoys who rarely agreed on anything except that Catholics are going to Hell. ” 36 likes
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