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Unfamiliar Fishes Audiobook, by Sarah Vowell Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Sarah Vowell Narrator: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, John Hodgman, Catherine Keener, Edward Norton, Keanu Reeves, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, John Slattery Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: March 2011 ISBN: 9781442337305
3.2 out of 53.2 out of 53.2 out of 53.2 out of 53.2 out of 5 3.20 (10 ratings) (rate this audio book)
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“Vowell makes an excellent travelling companion, what with her rare combination of erudition and cheek.”
The New York Times Book Review

Many think of 1776 as the most defining year of American history, the year we became a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness through self-government. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell argues that 1898 might be a year just as crucial to our nation’s identity, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded Cuba, and then the Philippines, becoming a meddling, self-serving, militaristic international superpower practically overnight.

Of all the countries the United States invaded or colonized in 1898, Vowell considers the story of the Americanization of Hawaii to be the most intriguing. From the arrival of the New England missionaries in 1820, who came to Christianize the local heathen, to the coup d’état led by the missionaries’ sons in 1893, overthrowing the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of beguiling if often appalling or tragic characters. Whalers who will fire cannons at the Bible-thumpers denying them their god-given right to whores. An incestuous princess pulled between her new god and her brother-husband. Sugar barons, con men, Theodore Roosevelt, and the last Hawaiian queen, a songwriter whose sentimental ode “Aloha ‘Oe” serenaded the first Hawaii-born president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.

With Vowell’s trademark wry insights and reporting, she lights out to discover the odd, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state. In examining the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn, she finds America again, warts and all. Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • Its scintillating cast includes dour missionaries, genital-worshiping heathens, Teddy Roosevelt, incestuous royalty, a nutty Mormon, a much-too-­merry monarch, President Obama, sugar barons, an imprisoned queen and Vowell herself, in a kind of 50th-state variety show. It’s a fun book…[a] playful, provocative, stand-up approach to history.”  

    New York Times Book Review 

  • “As entertaining and personable as it is informative.” 

    Washington Post 

  • “Sarah Vowell is an intellectual melting pot. Her cleverness is gorgeously American.” 

    Los Angeles Times 

  • “Sarah Vowell is for my money, the best essayist/radio commentator/sit-down comic and pointy headed history geek in the business.

    Seattle Times 

  • A New York Times bestseller

Listener Reviews

Write a Review
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 John | 5/24/2011

    " A lot oif insight and a very interesting account of the Americanization and subsequent take over of The Sandwich Islands (aka Hawaii) between 1820 and 1898. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Juliealef | 5/21/2011

    " Pithy. Hysterical. Yet with no discernible structure. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mason | 5/20/2011

    " Though starting off rather slow, Vowell's bright, sardonic tone helps breathe life into the tale of Hawaii's "Americanization." "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Labmom | 5/18/2011

    " I would read Sarah vowell's grocery list. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Maryellen | 5/18/2011

    " A fair handed history of Hawaii from the arrival of the missionaries up to the annexation. It just did not grab me the way Tony Horwitz does. It had some moments, some humor and some pretty dull parts. It's a short book, the author has a pleasant voice and so it was not horrible to get through "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cheryl | 5/16/2011

    " More here after my book club meets! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Netts | 5/14/2011

    " not quite as enjoyable as her previous books (and slightly more preachy too) but still an interesting slice of american history "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Connie | 5/13/2011

    " I'm a huge Sarah Vowell fan, but didn't find this as interesting as some of her others like, say, "Assassination Vacation" or "Partly Cloudy Patriot." "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kaia | 5/12/2011

    " It's not my favorite that she's written, but it's excellent Vowell-style history. I am surprisingly ignorant about Hawaii, as it turns out. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tara | 5/12/2011

    " Learned a lot about Hawaii's history, and I love how Sarah Vowell can blend scholarly historical research with a snarky sense of humor! "

About the Author

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.

About the Narrators

John Hodgman is a writer, comedian, and actor.. He is the author of three New York Times bestselling books—The Areas of My Expertise, More Information Than You Require, and That Is All. After an appearance to promote his books on The Daily Show, he was invited to return as a contributor, serving as the show’s “Resident Expert” and “Deranged Millionaire.” This led to an unexpected and, frankly, implausible career before the camera. He has performed comedy for the president of the United States, at a TED conference, and in a crypt in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Finally, he is the host of the popular Judge John Hodgman podcast, in which he settles serious disputes between real people, such as “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” and “Should we tell our children the TRUTH about Santa Claus?” He also contributes a weekly column under the same name for the New York Times Magazine.

Edward Norton is well-known for his role in the cult classic film Fight Club, based on the debut novel by Chuck Palanhiuk. Norton turned to acting two years after graduating from Yale University in 1991. He worked in theater before landing his first film role in 1996’s Primal Fear. Norton earned an Oscar nomination for that role and for 1998’s American History X. He continues to produce and star in movies that including the blockbuster The Incredible Hulk, Pride and Glory, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Birdman, earning his third Oscar nomination for the latter.

Keanu Reeves is a Canadian film actor known for his roles in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, SpeedPoint Break, and the science fiction-action trilogy The Matrix. In addition to his film roles, Reeves has also performed in theatre, and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.

Paul Rudd is an actor, comedian and screenwriter known for his roles in CluelessThe Cider House RulesWet Hot American SummerAnchormanThe 40-Year-Old VirginKnocked UpForgetting Sarah MarshallDinner for Schmucks, and I Love You, Man. He has also appeared on the NBC sitcom Friends and is frequently featured on the Tim and Eric show.

Maya Rudolph is an American actress, comedienne, and singer who rose to prominence as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. She received an Emmy Award nomination for returning to host a 2012 episode of SNL and is the costar of the NBC sitcom Up All Night.