Sarah Vowell's books manage to combine two of my favorite types of reads; weighty History and comedic non-fiction. Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates is a look at the religious roots of America and it's early puritan colonists.
What I love most about Vowell is that she tackles subjects on a micro-scale. She writes on subjects that as an American, I grew up learning about in school, but she dives in for a deeper look on a particular subject or group of people. In The Wordy Shipmates, many of the names and locations are familiar, but Vowell provides an onslaught of information creating a more meaningful context for the subject.
As I read Vowell's book, I felt a greater understanding of the key players in the colonization of America and their motivations. Her narrative leans a bit towards the dark side, the things that most Americans don't really scratch the surface of until they get to college level History courses. However, even when the reality isn't so pretty, Vowell manages to place the person or event within it's appropriate context, often finding something positive.
I found the connections between the colonist and England to be very fascinating. It's definitely not as clear cut as we are led to believe studying American History in school. It's a big tangled mess with a lot of colorful personalities involved. The last part of the book, with the Anne Hutchinson trial was fascinating. Hutchinson was definitely one of those colorful personalities!
Vowell writes as someone who has a profound love and respect for History. She is a humorist and the levity in her writing helps break up the otherwise very heavy material. I love that she brings her sister and seven year old nephew on the road to check out Historic Landmarks. This personal narrative is refreshing.
Truthfully, I read her books with envy in regard to the great gig that she has set up for herself that combines travel, History and writing. I wish that I had thought to do it first!
The Wordy Shipmates is not her most entertaining book (check out Assassination Vacation), but it is worth a read if you are a Vowell fan or want a deeper investigation into America's early colonies.