Audiobook Review: The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell

I've long been a fan of Sarah Vowell. Her earlier works ( Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot) deal closely with subjects I also adore -- namely, American history -- and so were a natural fit for me. More recently, Vowell turned her attention to Hawaii with  Unfamiliar Fishes , a subject about which I originally had little to no interest... but her book convinced me otherwise. To me, she has become the kind of skilled writer that can take a subject of any level of dryness and morph it into something witty, fun and downright delectable.

I went back recently and picked up The Wordy Shipmates on audio at my local library (though I also own the book in hardcover) in an effort to continue to get to know this author that I've always loved.* Her subject of choice this time around? None other than the Puritans, that miserly, no-fun lot that first settled our precious American shores. Well, except for the Native Americans, of course. And they weren't always no-fun, actually. And they didn't all wear black with silly white hats, either.

These are the myths that Vowell sets out to de-bunk, and she does so successfully. Puritan writing can be dry as all get-out (have you ever actually read Winthrop's extensive sermons?), but Vowell, in her usual style, treats this material with an irreverent attitude that makes it all seem... approachable, somehow. Add in the fact that she reads her own audiobooks, and Vowell's story, as well as her humor and dry, sarcastic wit, come to life in every sense of the word. Then consider a delightful cast of additional readers, including (but certainly not limited to) Peter Dinklage as the voice of Roger Williams, that outcast who ultimately founded that bizarre little state, Rhode Island.

Though this was not my favorite of Vowell's works (I find her style to be more impactful in essays than in full-length histories), I can honestly say that any writer capable of teaching us about the Puritans through a careful examination of The Brady Bunch pilgrim episode is clearly a writer worth reading. Especially when said writer manages to pull it off successfully -- which Vowell does here. The Wordy Shipmates is a delightful, if sometimes overly detailed read, and the audio version is even better. After all, who doesn't want to hear Sarah Vowell and Peter Dinklage tell us about Puritan politics? Amiright?

*The Wordy Shipmates actually came out before Unfamiliar Fishes, but I didn't read them in order.


Watch Sarah Vowell on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, which is probably one of the best things ever:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Sarah Vowell
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Thoughts from other bookworms:
Bookrageous Podcast
S. Krishna's Books
Jenny's Books


You might also like:
Unfamiliar Fishes
Assassination Vacation
The Partly Cloudy Patriot


The Wordy Shipmates | Sarah Vowell, nar. Sarah Vowell & Cast | Simon & Schuster Audio | 9781590514634 | $29.99 Audio CD | 6 CDs, 7 hrs | October 2008 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you


  1. I think it's time for me to give Sarah Vowell another shot. I read something by her (something about cannoli, I think?) years ago and wasn't wowed. It wasn't BAD, I just wasn't sure what all the Sarah Vowell fuss was all about. I keep running across really positive reviews about her work, though, so maybe I'll try again.

    1. I haven't read Take the Cannoli, but I've read all of her others now... I think Assassination Vacation and Partly Cloudy Patriot would be good starting points. She's more fun, in my opinion, when she's writing essays/chapters, instead of longer-form dives into one subject (like this one). That said, they're all good. Maybe try the audio? Her humor comes across more fully when she's reading to you.

  2. I haen't read that Cannoli book either, but I've read Vowell's last three - actually listened to all of them on audio - and have found them all to be hilarious and really informative.

    1. This was my first audio of hers and I can see why everyone loves them so much! I want to go back and re-read her other works, only this time on audio.


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