29 March 2009


writer, journalist,
humorist (1969- )

"The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought provoking. I mean: might get people killed." (opening sentence, The Wordy Shipmates)

•"History repeats itself. The first time as tragedy. The second time as farce. The third time as tourist trap." (paraphrased from Karl Marx)

•"In death, you get upgraded into a saint no matter how much people hated you in life."

•"One thing I find ridiculous is the notion of the good old days and the decline of American morals. This period of American history is called The Gilded Age for a reason. It's all about greed. Our forebears were just as corrupt as our contemporaries."

•"I hated mystery. I think it comes from being religious, being a Fundamentalist, especially, because that's all about certainty." (Vowell is now an atheist.)

•"Presidents and presidential assassins are like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Even though one city is all about sin and the other is all about salvation, they are identical, one-dimensional company towns built up by the sheer will of true believers. "

•"Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christ-like Christian, or conformity's tyrannical enforcer? Answer: Yes" (The Wordy Shipmates)

•"Was Rhode Island's architect, Roger Williams, America's founding freak or the father of the First Amendment? Same difference." (The Wordy Shipmates)

•"From New England's Puritans we inherited the idea that America is blessed and ordained by God above all nations, but lost the fear of wrath and retribution." (The Wordy Shipmates)

•"I just feel sorry for him [Roger Williams] that he lived in an age before air quotes; maybe he would have calmed down about the use of the word 'Christendom' if he could make sarcastic hand gestures every time he heard or said it."

•"What was the Puritans' pet name for the Pope? The Great Whore of Babylon." (The Wordy Shipmates)

•"I really can't fault [Al] Gore for saying that what happened at Abu Ghraib is sickening, not only because it's just plain sickening, but because America is supposed to be better than that. No: best. I hate to admit it, but I still believe that, too. Because even though my head tells me that the idea that America was chosen by God as His righteous city on a hill is ridiculous, my heart still buys into it. And I don't even believe in God!" (The Wordy Shipmates)

•"I was exposed, from infancy on, to so much wretch-like-me, original-sin talk that I spent my entire childhood believing I was as depraved as Charles Manson when in reality I might have been the best-behaved nine-year-old of the twentieth century." (The Wordy Shipmates)

•"How jarring it must have been to be an adult Narraganett [Native American] and this strange white man shows up out of the blue and shatters his lifelong peace of mind with what the stranger calls the 'good news' that the native is in fact a wicked, worthless evildoer and so was his mother. So said native dies terrified by his big, naughty un-christian heart of stone instead of, say, as the Shawnee Tecumseh would later advise, 'Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.'" (The Wordy Shipmates)

A few words about The Wordy Shipmates:
I highly recommend this book. It tells, in depth, much of the history of the Puritans and Pilgrims in early America ---many things I had never learned or had forgotten ---from the point of view of an admitted geek and history buff who spices her writing with amusing asides. It approaches the subject seriously, yet is amazingly witty. Even though Vowell frequently points out the ridiculous actions and beliefs of these early settlers, she also admires them. I liked that the author relates the actions or writings of these people to recent history, making history meaningful to us today. This would make a great history text book, except for the fact that it would never be approved by school boards because Vowell is an avowed liberal and atheist.
A review in The Seattle Times said: "Quirky observation and droll insights, a dish Vowell consistently serves... These commentaries are the thoughtful and thought-provoking musings of a genuine patriot ---one who loves her country even if its politics disappoint her."

Read more reviews of Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates:

Also on YouTube:

Sarah Vowell on writing. 
Sarah Vowell on "The Wordy Shipmates." 
Sarah Vowell on Letterman "The Wordy Shipmates."
Sarah Vowell on Letterman "Unfamiliar Fishes."
Sarah Vowell on "Unfamiliar Fishes."
Sarah Vowell (audio only) on Thanksgiving, Part 1.
Sarah Vowell (audio only) on Thanksgiving, Part 2.

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