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Extended Audio Sample The Wordy Shipmates Audiobook, by Sarah Vowell Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.76266666666667 out of 53.76266666666667 out of 53.76266666666667 out of 53.76266666666667 out of 53.76266666666667 out of 5 3.76 (30 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Sarah Vowell Narrator: Sarah Vowell Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2008 ISBN: 9780743578202
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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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “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)

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • Selected for the November 2008 Indie Next List

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 KJH | 5/26/2016

    " I loved this book. Great info about our early ancestors that is still relevant in the politics of today. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Bob Gale | 2/19/2014

    " Enjoyable quick read of a period of American history covered only briefly in our schools. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Paul | 2/13/2014

    " Led me to like and dislike many of the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. For the same reasons I like and dislike America in general. Vowell empathizes with the characters even while poking jabs at them. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Bahimiron | 2/11/2014

    " The first of Sarah Vowell's books that had me drifting. For a book where the thesis was meant to be that the early Massachusetts settlers were big on education and reading, she abandons that pretty quickly and heads off into 'boy, those guys were kind of jerks' territory. Which, let's be honest, most folks picking this up aren't going to be entirely unaware of just how jerky our early settlers were. When she finally got around to the stuff about the Pequot War and Anne Hutchinson I was more interested, but that's practically the last third of the book. For the most part it functions as a snapshot of a few decades of John Winthrop's (Massachusetts hero, early American dickbag) life more than anything else. Unlike Assassination Vacation, I felt that this book really lacked the charm that Sarah's voice brings, which left the material a little too dry for me. And that's my fault. I'm a product of Generation Rx and there's only so much attention I can pay at any time. But I got a lot out of Assassination Vacation and the Partly Cloudy Patriot. I didn't get nearly that much out of The Wordy Shipmates and I wish I had. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Elipsos | 1/27/2014

    " library it rather than buy. Pretty funny though "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Aleobarron | 1/22/2014

    " "Americans have learned our history from exagerrated popular art for as long as anyone can remember. Revolutionary War soldiers were probably singing run but inaccurate folk songs about those silly Puritans to warm themselves by the fire at Valley Forge." - Vowell, explaining our "Brady Bunch" approach to history "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Marilyn | 1/22/2014

    " Very entertaining and fascinating book on Puritan history and writings. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Margaret Mccamant | 1/19/2014

    " History of my forebears - New England Protestants. Vowell makes it all quite amusing, but it turned out to be a little more than I cared about the subject by the end of the book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jessica | 1/18/2014

    " Interesting tale of the puritans and the separatists, but there was a lot of death and scalping. I had to put it down for a while and come back to it later. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Marks54 | 1/12/2014

    " I heard about this on NPR and it proved to be a readable and funny treatment of the Pilgrims and other very articulate early American settlers. It is not very deep but is a quick read and entertaining. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Eliza | 11/23/2013

    " This was disappointingly not nearly as good as Assassination Vacation. There was just so much content in the middle of the book that for much of it the author's voice and insights were drowned out by the sheer amount of facts and dates. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Emma | 9/4/2013

    " As ever, Sarah Vowell takes a thorough (and sometimes funny) glance at American history. Here, Vowell gives a look at the Puritans beyond the usual Thanksgiving and Salem Witch Trial stories. Not as interesting as some of her earlier works but, that may just be me. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Missie | 1/13/2013

    " If you have any interest in American history and have a sense of humor, Sarah Vowell is well worth your time. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jamie | 9/12/2012

    " This is a great book. If you are interested in Colonial History or English religious thought you will be in heaven. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Hans | 9/3/2012

    " Not one of Vowell's best works. It felt like a poorly-written thesis at times - the author finds facts more interesting than the average reader. In this case, Vowell spends too much time on character and not on story. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Monica | 7/14/2012

    " I liked Assassination Vacation more but this was still interesting & entertaining "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jeff | 1/13/2012

    " Lots of history about the early colonies during the 1630s. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Aimee | 11/12/2011

    " You wouldn't think a book about Puritans would be very interesting, but it's cleverly written and she adds quite a bit of humor to keep it going quickly. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mark Bruce | 10/17/2011

    " Sarah Vowell takes on the Pilgrims and the Pilgrims come off none the worse for wear, though she does go deeply into their psyche and their papers to give us their peculiar look on the world. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Andrew Schmidt | 8/3/2011

    " if you want to be entertained and/or you have even a little interest in american history read this book. i think it's sarah vowell's best work "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Craig A | 5/19/2011

    " I have read two books of Vowell's before, but they were collections of essays and short stories. This book was one continuous story. The premise is following the start of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Puritans. It has war, religion, hypocrisy and humor...what more do you need? "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Lori | 5/17/2011

    " Not nearly as funny as her other books but I love listening to her voice reading her books. It's have the fun. This one's a bit too long but I marvel at her ability to make 17th century texts understandable in modern terms. And to make Puritans funny at all is a pretty good feat. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deb | 5/12/2011

    " The audio version is so much fun! The history is densely packed, so I listened twice. I love Sarah's voice, and her deadpan delivery...only she could tell the Pilgrims' real story and make you think you should have paid a cover charge or at least ordered another drink. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jim | 5/12/2011

    " Sarah Vowell takes on early American History. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Michael | 5/9/2011

    " Another great, thought-provoking, and very funny read from Sarah Vowell. I always like her stuff. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Donnielle | 5/6/2011

    " Entertaining and got me to actually go out and read more on the subject. Vowell's style of writing makes it feel like more of a conversation than a historical account. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Roxanne | 5/3/2011

    " Why wasn't Sarah Vowell everyone's history teacher? No one else could entice me to read 250 pages about 17th-century Puritans in the New World. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lisa | 5/2/2011

    " Loved this in audio format. It's made all the more entertaining (to me at any rate) by imagining that the whole thing is an over-long history essay being ready by Violet Parr, from the Incredibles, to her class.

    My nerd cup runneth over. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 David | 5/1/2011

    " My first Sarah Vowell book. I have been aware of her for a few years and I am glad that I finally got to read one of her books. She can write, that's for sure! The topic is one that interests me and she has shed a light on this particular period in human progress. A very good book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lena | 4/27/2011

    " Sarah Vowell makes the Puritans sound petty and scandalous. It could be called The Proto-Real Magistrates of Massachusetts Bay. "

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