The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates

by Sarah Vowell


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594484001
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/06/2009
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 112,944
Product dimensions: 5.44(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sarah Vowell is the bestselling author of Lafayette in the Somewhat United StatesUnfamiliar FishesThe Wordy ShipmatesAssassination Vacation, and The Partly Cloudy Patriot.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 27, 1969

Place of Birth:

Muskogee, Oklahoma


B.A., Montana State University, 1993; M.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1996

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"[Vowell's] a complex blend: part brilliant essayist, part pop-culture-loving comedian and a full-time unabashed history geek. The mixture makes her both proudly pointy-headed and forever entertaining."
-Seattle Times

"Sarah Vowell lends her engaging voice and keen powers of observation to a work of social history...Provid[ing] a glimpse of what life was really like for the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the founders of Plymouth."
-Los Angeles Times

"Vowell's words crackle on the printed, quirky and unabashedly incendiary...Vowell is very funny. She is generous as she wrestles with the moral intricacies of our nation's beginnings and how Puritan contradictions inform our sense of American exceptionalism today...The Wordy Shipmates is more than a punk-ish twist on our brave, verbose, tortured forebears, living in their new colony like 'an ashram in the woods.'"
-Cleveland Plain Dealer

"For those of us who'd rather harvest our history lessons from The Simpsons than the History Channel, Vowell is a latter-day hero...Fascinating."

"Vowell...reads history with attitude, humor and sensitivity."
-Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"[Vowell exercises] her trademark sweet, silly, arch sense of the incongruous ways we memorialize the American past."
-Chicago Tribune

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The Wordy Shipmates 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 119 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A nonfiction account of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who were loyalists, as opposed to the Puritans in Plymouth, who were separatists. Vowell presented both positive and negative aspects of the times, comparing past issues with similar ones today. Her story made the people seem more real to me. I enjoyed reading this candid version of history—much more complex than what I was taught in school.
Drew31 More than 1 year ago
Sarah is again at her snarkiest as she pulls no punches in documenting the true objective of our Puritan settlers: LIMITED religious freedom.
Kat Erickson More than 1 year ago
Vowell details the bickering amongst early collonists as if she were gossiping on the campus quad. Loved it!
Persephone16 More than 1 year ago
In her latest book The Wordy Shipmates, fiercely witty author Sarah Vowell revisits the motley crew of European expatriates who provided a foundation to our country. As witnessed through the vivid language of speeches, debates and verbal catfights, these literary innovators created a layered story of stoic ideals, dramatic controversy, and rugged but determined heroism. All of this blockbuster drama is woven into the syllables of American history. A few brave colonists took a chance on ship across the angry Atlantic and became the nation's first jet-setting rebels. Who were these star-spangled celebrities? The Puritans. The word 'Puritan' does not bring to mind the glitz and glamour of a fight for democracy and independence. Most Americans conjure a few images of Thanksgiving and thankless manual labor at the very mention of the word. A 'Puritan work ethic' is the most enduring image of these original New Englanders, but Sarah Vowell makes it apparent that it is their spirit for new ideas and quest to become the idyllic "city upon a hill" that has permeated the root of American culture and society. Though the sentiment behind the words may have witnessed several transformations, America remains a nation of words just as the Puritans who landed in New England in 1630. Sarah Vowell reminds us of how much we didn't learn in history class about our assumed ancestry. She guides both the casual and avid American historian on a journey of words from stormy England across the sea to the colony of Massachusetts Bay. Among the most purely Puritan of the cast of shipmates included in the story are the persistent and stoic governor John Winthrop and his right-hand minister John Cotton. Providing drama are the colony's premiere upstarts such as "American Jezebel" Anne Hutchinson, a woman who dared to have some words of her own, and Roger Williams, whose rebellious and shocking ideas led to such American standards as freedom of speech and separation of church and state. Shipmates showcases not only history, but the vitality of real people who happened to set the stage for a future democracy. The reader is left with the sense of just how important words still are. The words of the past come back to form new styles of government. The words of today reflect a new way of saying an old idea. This book updates the Puritan image and interprets the words and concepts of our forefathers in an accessible format. Just as our Puritan ancestors, we have good intentions and we make mistakes, but still we encourage education, debate and the spirit of discovery. Sarah Vowell demonstrates an idea that I find to be comforting. America's wordy ship is still sailing. The Wordy Shipmates is a must ready for any American, historians and rap stars alike.
Strongmedicine More than 1 year ago
Sarah Vowell is a smart aleck who took the most boring subject (religious folk in old New England) and made it into an animated relevant event. Her style is a mixture of wise cracks and solid research. She takes a bunch of Puritans from hundreds of years ago and relates their dilemmas to present day events - thus puttting the reader in Puritan common sense decision trees. The book was not at all what I thought I wanted, but it was a great way to learn history - I consumed it greedily ... all dessert. I loved the style and want to have her teach me more boring subjects with the same gift for making it current and amusing.
CopakeWillow More than 1 year ago
It's clear that Vowell has done a thorough job of research and knows her subject intimately. She has a wonderful rye sense of humor, enjoying all the contradictions and foibles of the various Puritans and Pilgrims. But she also has great affection for them. So she doesn't tear them down; she just shows how human they are. Vowell not only thoroughly explains the historic context at the time, but also follows it through to today. Her take is unorthodox, but always thought-provoking and often laughter-provoking, too. This is actually an important book for us to read today, because these are our intellectual and often political & economic forebears and they still live on in us today.
Andrew_D More than 1 year ago
As anyone who has read any of Sarah Vowell's other books might have expected, this book is a terrific, enjoyable, and informative read. It's well-written, insightful, engaging, and a must-read for anyone who is interested in, knows about, or cares about history... or is just looking for a terrifically written, wonderful read. Highly recommended.
Chipper714 More than 1 year ago
Starting with the oft-overlooked differences between Pilgrims and Puritans, Sarah Vowell dives in the world colonial Massachusetts to show that we are even today profoundly influenced by the thinking and rhetoric of those early colonists.

She addresses the career of John Winthrop who at times rules the early colony with a stern hand but still manages to recall from time to time the Christian principle of compassion. Vowell also gives us a look at the revolutionary philosophy of the gifted founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams and briefly touches on the fascinating Anne Hutchinson.

While the engaging humorous asides and breaks for her personal commentary that have marked her previous books are still in evidence and still endearing, they are fewer and farther between. There also seems to be a greater depth of research with more detail than earlier works. Less humor, more research and a topic like the Puritans may seem to make for a boring doesn't.

What Sarah Vowell does is brilliant. Her treatment of the topic may not rise to the scholarly level of a history professor, but it is much more likely to be read and discussed. That's a very good thing. I'll be honest, I envy Sarah Vowell for her ability to commit to such a demanding topic and write about it with such genuine affection for some of the long dead figures that you wished the book were longer. She is a gifted writer and a gift to our country.
keristars on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Like many people, I'm sure, I first learned of Vowell after hearing her tell a story on This American Life. I promptly decided that I absolutely had to go out and read Assassination Vacation ... and then failed to ever actually get around to doing so. Likewise, when I heard about The Wordy Shipmates, I knew I needed to go read it, but took my time. It wasn't until I saw the book on sale for only $4 that I acquired it, and then it took me almost a year to actually read it. So you might understand that this book is one I expected to enjoy, but didn't have a super urgent need to read.That's pretty much how reading the book went for me: enjoyable and informative, but maybe not the best or most exciting thing in the world. I very much appreciated Vowell's research and views on the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century, as well as the links she drew between them and modern America. I feel that I have a much greater understanding of many aspects of American culture and politics, or at least some of the roots, than I did before. I'm also a lot more aware of American history in general - having grown up in Florida within shouting distance of St Augustine, I mostly learned the Spanish colony stuff and not so much the details about New England except in a general sense. I also appreciate having better context for much of the early American literature I've read (or will be reading) and even some of the stuff that was written in England at the time or shortly thereafter.Sometimes, though, I felt that the contextual links with modern events and people were a bit too biting and sharply drawn, though I can't really fault Vowell for them, since that's kind of what she does, and the book isn't exactly promoted as a straight-up history or anything. I also felt that the various sections flowed together a bit too much. I wanted more demarcation between one topic and the next, if only to help me space out my reading and to provide clearer conceptual links between stories. There are no chapter breaks, but I don't think that's what I wanted, exactly. It wasn't difficult to read without the kind of demarcations I'm thinking of, but it did get a bit tiring towards the end.Overall, I'm not really sure if this is a positive or negative response to the book. I did like it a lot and I learned a lot from it, but maybe it wasn't the best reading experience? I still plan to get around to reading Assassination Vacation one day, but it might turn out that I just plain prefer Vowell in shorter radio segments and long-form essays than in full book format.
booksandbosox on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Vowell is incredibly entertaining; I actually laughed out loud a few times while listening to this. Even though I rather enjoyed it, I think I would have liked it even better if I had read instead of listened. I don't know how much of the information she provides I was able to retain since I was always multi-tasking while listening to the book. Also, she uses a number of different readers to represent different people in the book and it was a bit distracting to hear the big pause before each person spoke. However, one bonus of the audio was the cool sea shanties that were interspersed throughout the reading. Very atmospheric. I will definitely read other Vowell works.
abirdman on LibraryThing 21 days ago
A relaxed, informative, and very entertaining history of the Puritans in New England. Sarah Vowell is a very bright woman, who by halfway through the book-- which is on its surface a chatty memoir-- has absorbed so much of the historical source material she's begun taking on some of the major American historians of the period, chiding them and trying to set them straight. I was very entertained by her good-hearted poking at Perry Miller. This is definitely a worthy book-- spend a few days in intimate chat with Sarah Vowell, and come away with a very good background on a complex and important historical period.
andystardust on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Since professing a love of historical sites, museums, commemorative plaques and the like in her essay about retracing the Trail of Tears, Sarah Vowell has become to American history what John Stewart is to politics. Her writing matches the narration of historical facts with a sharp wit that consistently makes her work accessible without sacrificing its thoughtfulness. This book resembles a standard work on American history more than any of her previous work, focusing as it does on a series of primary sources: diaries, journals, and published pamphlets produced by the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There is less here of Vowell's tendency to filter her history lessons through the lens of her personal experience touring museums and interviewing tour guides, and I missed those elements to some extent. But the book is no less a showcase for Vowell's brand of patriotism, which here seeks to dispel misconceptions about the Puritans while celebrating some of their most influential ideas.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing 21 days ago
The Wordy Shipmates is an interesting history book, because it doesn't read anything like most history books - in fact, like most nonfiction at all. Sarah Vowell clearly has a passion for history, and reading this was like listening to the cool, fun history professor give a lecture. In our elementary education and general cultural knowledge, the Puritans get mischaracterized so badly, and The Wordy Shipmates makes them into relatable and interesting people.I did find myself wishing that the book was a little more academic, although I didn't mind the chattiness. But there aren't even footnotes or an index, and the bibliography is sparse and incomplete. It's a unique approach to history, and really a good introduction to the subject, but I was looking for something a little bit weightier.
jentifer on LibraryThing 21 days ago
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 asides and wandering off to read some other piece about the topic she's pondering and never come back.I'm going to try and nab this on CD and listen to it - maybe that will make the difference.
LTFL_JMLS on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Loves this irreverent take on the Pilgrims.
catalogthis on LibraryThing 21 days ago
This was a very hit-or-miss reading experience for me. Some passages are lovely, but there are some giant sinkholes of "and then, and then, and then" storytelling, like a middle-school history report.Worth reading, if only for the first 50 and last five pages.
justabookreader on LibraryThing 21 days ago
The Wordy Shipmates is an entertaining book that will have readers fascinated by the history of America's founding and the sheer silliness of history sometimes.Vowell begins with the sailing of the ship Arabella and a blessing by Reverend John Cotton, which being a rather long and dreary speech common for its time, leaves the reader and these particular sailors and passengers, with much to think about in terms of the task they are embarking upon. While she does not provide much in terms of the history of the very early Puritans, as her work focuses on the words of the men at the time, one is left with an odd but very insightful interpretation of the types of people who were setting out to found a new land.Her wit punctuates the story in all the right places reminding the reader of the silly and trifling events that have taken place which have made America what it is today. She takes readers on both a mental and physical journey as she road trips to places such as Boston and Connecticut to view for herself what has become of these locations she has only known from books and letters.She talks about her fascination with these Puritans and their religion. Under her watchful and admiring eye, she once again brings these men to life, even if in some instances only to air their dirty laundry. While she does point out much of the inane arguments that took place at the time, you see the admiration that she holds for these individuals and what they are undertaking.One caution about the book - if you are looking for a purely historical read, you will not find it here. A short book, only 254 pages, it reads more like a dissertation rather than an in-depth historical look at the time period. Her topic is well focused and she does not divert from what she has set out to research --- the letters of the men inhabiting the Massachusetts Bay Colony.She is insightful, witty, and very respectful toward her subjects. She leaves readers with much to think about and a laugh or two along the way.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing 21 days ago
I have now read three of Sarah Vowell's book, and greatly enjoyed them all. But, I like her sarcastic, wise-cracking sense of humor. Some people will be turned off by it, I am sure. I was not really that interested in the story of the Massachusetts Puritans. But, the book was such a fast read, that I did not lose my interest in it.
Dogberryjr on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Good enough, but not nearly as good as Vowell's other work. While I really enjoy her premature curmudgeonliness, the tone of this book was a bit too snarky and made finishing it a chore.
dmcolon on LibraryThing 21 days ago
I saw Sarah Vowell on TV ( The Daily Show? Colbert? One of the two). I picked up the book expecting a humorous romp through Puritan times in Colonial America. That wasn't quite what I got from "The Wordy Shipmates". Instead I've found a somewhat rambling and occasionally pedestrian account of early America. What I did gain from the book, however, is that the Puritans are far more complex than we were led to believe as schoolchildren. Puritans were not bible-thumping anti-intellectual prigs. John Winthrop, for instance, could be an incredibly humane and charitable man or a closed-minded bigot. And in a sense, Vowell's book argues that America still reflects those competing values and inclinations. We are the country that brought the world the civil rights movement and Guantanamo Bay detentions. We have alternatively embodied liberty and segregation and slavery. There's a complexity that belies both the "country first" crowd and the revisionist critics of our past.In the end, this attempt to convey our moral ambiguity is what saves the book. "The Wordy Shipmates" makes up for its shortcomings and made me appreciate our early history much more than I have for years.
BeachWriter on LibraryThing 21 days ago
After 8 years in which a determined faction of the Republican Party sought to tear down the Constitutional barriers between church and state, SarahVowell's The Wordy Shipmates seems more like a newspaper than the well-researched and gripping historical account that it is. One recent presidential aspirant, MikeHuckabee , who said, "what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it¿s in God¿s standards rather than trying to change God¿s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family," would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Massachusetts Puritans, like John Winthrop and John Cotton. But as Vowell's title suggests, and as she herself makes clear, the religious settlers of New England differed from modern American politicians in one respect: They read voraciously and wrote continuously. Knowledge and learning were held in high esteem in the 1600s, in stark contrast to 21st century leaders who make a fetish - and a virtue - of ignorance. The Wordy Shipmates were not the Plymouth Puritans of turkey-and-maize fame; they were the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay colony. One of their early priories was the creation of an institution of higher learning, known today as Harvard College. Vowell, a regular contributor to NPR's This American Life, illustrates her point with copious selections from the letters and diaries of Winthrop, Cotton, Roger Williams and their contemporaries. In the process, she delivers a highly readable account of the portions of our early history either ignored or glossed over in the classroom: the massacre of Native American women and children by Puritan soldiers, the stifling of dissenting views by the religious-civil authorities, the internal disputes that rocked the New England establishment. I remember learning in elementary school that Roger Williams had been banished from Massachusetts, which led him to found his own colony on Rhode Island. What I was not taught in school was that Williams - a conservative Christian whose religious views would rivalHuckabee's - was banished because he believed in the strict separation of church and state. Vowell recounts the disputes between Williams and Winthrop in light, readable prose that makes history seem alive and very, very contemporary.
readingrat on LibraryThing 21 days ago
After reading Partly Cloudy Patriot, I was really looking forward to reading another of Sarah Vowell's works. I enjoy her humor and the way she draws astute parallels between her topic of research and current (and sometimes not so current) events. While I did still enjoy reading this account of Puritan New England,I didn't really hear this author's unique literary voice in this work as much as I would have liked. Which, for me, made it not quite as good as The Partly Cloudy Patriot.
lpmejia on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Sarah Vowell¿s The Wordy Shipmates takes on the subject of early New England history with an insightful and sometimes amusing bent that makes it an easygoing and fun read. It¿s an accessible and cool book, a Gen Xer¿s take on how the puritan culture of seventeenth century Massachusetts and its neighbors still continues to inform our American mindset. Shipmates takes us through the story of John Winthrop, a puritan minister who traveled to New England in 1630 aboard the ship Arbella with a group of true believers and a dream of creating a ¿city upon a hill¿ in the New World, a vision of America that we as a nation still espouse to this day. Along with Winthrop, Vowell includes several other prominent figures from the time: Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his outspoken arguments for the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, Anne Hutchinson, a puritan woman gifted with a sharp legal mind and an even sharper tongue, as well as the Pequot and Narragansett Indians, natives who were forced to make room for the expanding European settlements.With wit and an armchair style that makes the subject matter engaging and interesting, Vowell draws relevant parallels between the Massachusetts Bay Colony¿s seal with its picture of a Native American holding a banner that reads ¿Come Over and Help Us¿ and our current national policy of ¿helping¿ foreign, sovereign nations with military intervention. The writing is smart, its thesis timely without being preachy. Both entertaining and informative, The Wordy Shipmates is an interesting little primer on the origins of American political philosophy.
gkleinman on LibraryThing 21 days ago
I really enjoy Sarah Vowell¿s work and I¿ve often recommended Assassination Vacation , so I had pretty hight expectations for The Wordy Shipmates.At its core The Wordy Shipmates is a very interesting book. Vowell takes a look at a very specific time and space in American History and shines a light into many preconceived notions of the Puritans and their experience in early America.What¿s missing from The Wordy Shipmates is Vowell herself. In Assassination Vacation, Vowell¿s own journey was the glue which held the book together. Here that kind of journey is mostly absent and so the book often gets stalled in the historical content.That all said, it is a fascinating book and Vowell is immensely talented. My instinct though is that hearing her read this story would be more enjoyable and entertaining than reading it, and this comes from someone who rarely listens to audio books.So if you¿re a Vowell fan, do check this book out, albeit with lower expectations as it¿s no Assassination Vacation.
wbc3 on LibraryThing 21 days ago
A fun, though uneven romp through the writings and history of the Puritans in colonial America. Vowell sees much to commend the Puritans in their theory, but has problems with their sometimes harsh practice. She at times offers real insight and at others seems to miss the point. It is, however, a fun read and I would recommend the book.