Tony duncan's Reviews > The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
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M 50x66
's review
Nov 08, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: audio, history, humor, politics, religion-spiritual
Recommended to Tony by: Barb baltuth
Recommended for: all americans, history buffs
Read in November, 2008 , read count: 1


this was quite a surprise. Maybe I should give it 5 stars. At leas it gets 4 1/2.

Barb turned me onto this. This is one of the most entertaining history books i have ever read (listened to). Sarah gives what seems to be a very balanced view of the politica and religious history of the colonizing of new England, by the Puritans. I had no idea i was so ignorant about tha part of our history.Surprised that some of her devotees are thoroughy disappointed by this, her most recent work. makes me a little scared to read any of her earlier stuff!

She does a good job of exlaining the reasons for the protestant split from Catholicism, how that conflict was ambivalent regarding the Anglican church, and the forces that caused Puritans to leave England and found Boston. HEr character studies are insightful, and while she makes no attempt to hide her bias, I don; think that causes her to unfairly misjudge the individuals.

The main point I got from this is that our general understanding of the Puritan's is Woefully inadequate and largely misleading. They were firm bel;ievers in education and learning and scholarship. They were quite tolerant of each other in certain respects, and allowed discussion of different theological views (though a very narrow range). Teh witch burnings didn;t come until much later. Sarah points out how their views have little in common with modern evangelicals who value faith more than learning, and who don;t even know the bible very well, content to brandish only those parts that make them feel good. The puritans, some of them anyway, argued incessantly about every aspect of it, according to Vowell, to the point of boredom. The worst punishment for heritics was banishment (and not until it wasn;t too cold out if you were banished in the winter), adn this was ONLY done to maintain the harmony of the community. tyhis was downright permissive compared to the constant behaedings and diembowelment, and dismemberment haned out on a daiy basis in Jolly Old England, Although, now that I remember it they did do things like pile stones on peoples bodies until there was enough pressure to recant. But apparently not realizing that their extreme way of life bred very stubborn people, one victim's last words were "More weight"

And Sarah is funny, her modern metaphors and sarcasm regarding so many historical occurrences made me laugh out loud a number of times. She has a biting wit, and in spite of her irritating nasal wishy-washy voice it all comes out like a beautiful tapestry. After a short while her voice even becomes an important part of the charm of her dissecting many crucial events from our deep past.

For instance , she points out the hypocrisy of a community that believes in loving your enemy, that sends an expedition to burn down a village of 700 Pequot indians, mostly woman and children, in retaliation for the killing of a few traders ( who were themselves killed in retaliation for colleagues killing the tribes chief). They are pleased when their Indian allies, the Mohegan's (yes ,THOSE of Mohegan Sun fame) graciously present them with six severed heads to shore up their reliability as allies. Sarah intones, "What could be better news than a bouquet of severed heads rolling around the fort floor" rather dark humor, but it works.
and one of my favorites, ( I got this form another review on this site)
“Talking about Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” without discussing Ronald Reagan would be like mentioning Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and pretending Whitney Houston doesn’t exist.”

She also points out the positive aspects of the individuals that tend to be painted as bad guys at certain times. For example, she has John Winthrop (the Governor of the Colony) who is behind the banishment of Roger Williams (the eventual founder of Rhode island) Apparently Winthrop tipped Williams off that his men were coming to jail him and send him to England just in time to allow Williams to escape.

Of course Wothrop showed NO such courtesy to Anne Hathaway, probably because she was a woman, and would not keep her trap shut when politely asked to recant her blasphemous beliefs that the Holy ghost resides IN one when you are the elect of God, rather than just riding shotgun and covering your back.

All in all a delightful worthwhile history. WHY don;t schools teach using THIS as history

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