David Bales's Reviews > Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
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's review
Aug 22, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011

Pretty good history of the American takeover of the Kingdom of Hawaii by the intrepid Sarah Vowell, who traces the arrival of American Protestant missionaries in the islands in 1819 to the annexation of Hawaii by the U.S. in 1898. Typically, the U.S. comes out looking pretty imperial and lousy and the dealings of the missionaries are kind of tedious, but it's startling to find out how totally disenfranchised Hawaiian people were in the process, how Hawaiian monarchs became either puppets of the American missionaries, (and later sugar planters--the children of the missionaries) or prisoners and how the McKinley Adminstration, egged on the young Theodore Roosevelt, decided to "plant the American flag" square in the Hawaiian Islands and give us the deepwater Pacific port of Pearl Harbor, a naval base that along with Manila would make the United States a two-ocean world power. I wish that she had continued the narrative past 1898, and she gives some snippets of that and a little bit about the indigenous Hawaiian rights movement, but more was wanted. A few American have served as presidents of "other" countries, like Sam Houston but who knows that Sanford B. Dole, (Hawaii-born and the son of a missionary from Maine) engineered himself to replace the queen of Hawaii and become "president of the Republic of Hawaii" from 1893 to 1898? (Desperately hoping that Hawaii would become an American territory.) Weird stuff. Good book and well worth it.

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