The Wordy Shipmates

For awhile, my favorite radio show was This American Life. And one of my favorite voices on the show was Sarah Vowell. Her nasal, girlish tone belied a sophisticated intelligence and wicked sense of humor.

I recently read “The wordy shipmates” by Sarah Vowell. It’s basically her idiosyncratic take on the Puritans who colonized Massachusetts at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. While they were escaping England because of religious persecution, the quickly established their own brand of religious intolerance. A couple of exceptions to this intolerance were Roger Williams and Ann Hutchinson, were were exiled for their troubles and went on to found settlements in Rhode Island.

Neither Roger nor Ann were particularly nice people. They were strict fundamentalists in their own brand of Calvinism, but they also believed in separation of church and state–mostly to protect the church from entanglement with government. Most of the second half of the book concerns Roger and Ann, and thus was of particular interest to me as a nascent Rhode Islander.

If you’ve ever heard Sarah Vowell’s essays on the radio (there are Youtubes, too), you can almost hear her voice as you read. Like a previous history I reviewed, she continually references 20th and 21st century popular culture and personalities to explain remote events and strange cultural practices. This is not academic scholarship, but I did learn a lot from the book while being entertained in the process. If you like history, I recommend it highly.