I never thought I would enjoy a book about Puritans but Sarah Vowell does such a great job with the history of Massachusetts Bay Colony that I read The Wordy Shipmates faster than I have ever read nonfiction before. She is witty and fun to read. The way that she relates the history of these early settlers to more modern history is both interesting and insightful.
For instance, I loved when she explained John Winthrop's famous speech "A Model of Christian Charity" and how odd it was that Ronald Reagan used part of that speech so often. Now, I am not a big fan of Ronald Reagan, so I really enjoyed all of the terrible things he did being pointed out in the book as proof that he didn't really understand "Christian Charity" at all. He regularly was comparing America to the "shining city on a hill." Without thinking about what that meant. In the rest of John Winthrop's speech he talks about togetherness and taking care of one another; while Reagan preached individualism and greed. Ok, I will stop myself before I get on a soapbox about why Reagan was terrible for America.
Vowell also did a wonderful job of illustrating the Puritans' love for learning. Namely reading and writing. She points out that while the United States gets called a Puritan nation often, this is one way it is not. She says that "Puritan lives were overwhelmingly, fanatically literary." This is something that I wish that we, as a nation were known for, but that is a different discussion for a different day.
The Wordy Shipmates also shed some light on the way Indians were related with and treated during that time period. I think it is common knowledge that European settlers were never a good thing for Indians, but it was interesting to learn more about how things were at the beginning of the colony. She explains about alliances that were made and about how the small pox made settling in American that much easier for the Puritans. I guess part of me was hoping to find some story in here where the settlers weren't totally using the Indians and then destroying them after, but that is really not available here. This book just really made me realize how little I knew about the beginnings of America and how wanting our education on it is. It has really inspired me to learn more about the people of that time.
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