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The Wordy Shipmates

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  19,698 ratings  ·  2,609 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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3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  19,698 ratings  ·  2,609 reviews

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May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor
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
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
Aug 01, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Jul 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Steven Harbin
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Julie Ehlers
Jul 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book took a while to get going for me. There was a lot of meandering prose, detours, and tangents, and honestly, I began to doubt my love for Sarah Vowell: Don't her books always seem just a wee bit better in retrospect than they do when I'm actually reading them, I wondered? Possibly, but thankfully this book did eventually pick up, and the narrative became more linear, which worked better for me. Honestly, my American history education has been woefully inadequate, so I was happy to get b ...more
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
Jul 26, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Debbie Zapata
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dar
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
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
2 stars - Meh. Just ok.

I jumped into this book with hopes it would enhance my recent trip to Boston and the surrounding New England area. Sadly, this was not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be, and as I trudged through it I kept wondering when the fascinating things would appear.

This was the second book I have read by Vowell and this one came across as more amateurish in writing quality. Her professionalism as an author has grown noticeably in the nine years between this book and, L
Patrick Gibson
Oct 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Aug 01, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Christian McKay
Oct 12, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Oct 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story of pilgrims. Specifically, the brave and pious souls who came over on Arbella in 1630 and started a Massachusetts Bay Colony. It isn't quite the happy Thanksgiving tale promulgated later on by the popular opinion, but a real story of the stubborn, fortitudinous (nice, always wanted to use it in a sentence), well intentioned, oftentimes misguided, striving bunch of individuals who pursued a dream. This is precisely how I like my history, told by a clever erudite with a great sense ...more
Oct 08, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Whenever I read Sarah Vowell, I’m always reminded of my own extremely random fascination with all things obscure that perhaps don’t deserve to be. Vowell has written books about presidential assassinations (one of my favorite books!), Lafayette during the revolutionary war, and here about the the first settlers to Massachusetts.
But like all Sarah Vowell books, this is not straightforward history. Instead she focuses on two groups the pilgrims that arrived on Plymouth Rock in 1620, and the set
Apr 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book (well-praised on NPR a few years back) was intended to be a wry segue to my having read David Mitchell's maritime-themed novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet". Sadly, this was a bad choice to read right after that near-masterpiece.

I appreciate Sarah Vowell's enthusiasm in "The Wordy Shipmates", and really like the cover and title. And that's about it. I've got a laundry list of gripes about this historical exploration/opinion piece regarding the Puritans of the Massachusetts B
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Meh... I expected more. The snark doesn't sit well in a supposed historical text. There seems to be no organization to it. And I have no idea what the thesis was.
The Audible version was odd, in that she had a host of actors signed on, but they read just a line or two here & there. It doesn't come off as well as I'd hoped.

On the upside, I finally know what "The Hutch" is & who it's named for.
"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
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 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humor, travelogue
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
Sarah Vowell is terrific. As a New Englander, I found this account of southern New England history fascinating. The history of Pilgrims and Puritans sounds deadly but it was eye-opening. The Massachusetts Bay Colony forbade all religious beliefs except for the Puritan's brand. Anne Hutchinson (the river and Parkway in NY are named for her) was not only an advocate for religious freedom, but women's rights. She also may have been a bit mad. Laws restricting immigrants by religion, race, national ...more
MB (What she read)
Oct 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs
Little did I know that the Puritans were so interesting...or so relevant to modern life and our view of our nation and our world!

Being a California girl, I just don't think about the Puritans much past grammar school and having read all of Louisa May Alcott, Patricia Clapp's "Constance" and Snedeker's "Downright Dencey" as a child. (Yes, I know these books aren't specifically about the Puritans. But I would say they were influenced by them.) So I enjoyed this additional Vowellish take on our Ame
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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
“The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief.” 59 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.” 50 likes
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