The Wordy Shipmates

A New York Times Bestseller

Selected for the November 2008 Indie Next List

New York Times bestselling author Sarah Vowell explores the Puritans and their journey to America in The Wordy Shipmates. Even today, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means—and what it should mean. What was this great political enterprise all about? Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual, and moral ancestors of our nation? The people she finds are highly literate, deeply principled, and surprisingly feisty. Their story is filled with pamphlet feuds, witty courtroom dramas, and bloody vengeance. Along the way she asks:

  • Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christ-like Christian, or conformity’s tyrannical enforcer? Answer: Yes!
  • Was Rhode Island’s architect, Roger Williams, America’s founding freak or the father of the First Amendment? Same difference.
  • What was the Puritans’ pet name for the Pope? The Great Whore of Babylon.

Sarah Vowell’s special brand of armchair history makes the bizarre and esoteric fascinatingly relevant and fun. She takes us from the modern-day reenactment of an Indian massacre to the Mohegan Sun casino, from old-timey Puritan poetry, to a Mayflower-themed waterslide. The Wordy Shipmates is rich in historical fact, humorous insight, and social commentary by one of America’s most celebrated voices. Thou shalt enjoy it.

Editorial Reviews

“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 exercises] her trademark sweet, silly, arch sense of the incongruous ways we memorialize the American past.” 

Chicago Tribune 

“[Vowell’s] a complex blend: part brilliant essayist, part pop-culture-loving comedian and a full-time unabashed history geek.” 

Seattle Times 

“Gracefully interspersing her history lesson with personal anecdotes, Vowell offers reflections that are both amusing…and tender.” 

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A book dense with detail, insight, and humor.”  

Booklist (starred review)

Author Biography

Sarah Vowell is a contributing editor for public radio’s This American Life and has written for Time, Esquire, GQ, Spin, Salon, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. She is the author of Radio On, Take the Cannoli, and The Partly Cloudy Patriot. She lives in New York City.

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Reader Biography

Sarah Vowell is a contributing editor for public radio’s This American Life and has written for Time, Esquire, GQ, Spin, Salon, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. She is the author of Radio On, Take the Cannoli, and The Partly Cloudy Patriot. She lives in New York City.

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