Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell – Audio Edition

Posted by on Mar 16, 2017 in 2017, 4.5 stars, Audio, Book Review, Sarah Vowell | 4 comments

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah VowellLafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell narrated by the author

Genre: Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 2015
Length: 8 hours, 7 minutes
Source: Library

The Book:
From the publisher:

From the bestselling author of Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes, a humorous account of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette—the one Frenchman we could all agree on—and an insightful portrait of a nation’s idealism and its reality.

On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been thirty years since the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000.

Lafayette’s arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted this country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans, it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing singular past.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a humorous and insightful portrait of the famed Frenchman, the impact he had on our young country, and his ongoing relationship with some of the instrumental Americans of the time, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and many more.

My Thoughts:
The Hubster and I took a road trip last weekend so that meant I needed to pick an audiobook that was 9 hours at the longest. I checked my playlist and realized I had this book but we hadn’t listened to it yet. The Hubster was pleased because we’ve listened to other books by Sarah Vowell and he likes them just as much as I do.

This is a bit of history, a bit of humor, a bit of travel journal, and great touches of sarcasm. I learned a lot while listening to this book. I didn’t remember much of my history of the American Revolution and what I did remember skipped over a lot of what happened during the war.

There were a couple of lines that cracked us both up. It was in the section where she was talking about Henry Knox and his mission to get the weapons and Fort Ticonderoga and bring them back to the siege of Boston. Knox had abandoned his bookshop when he and his wife left Boston and he joined the militia.

Enter Henry Knox. The twenty-five-year-old bookworm approached Washington and volunteered to go to Fort Ticonderoga to fetch the equipment. Washington approved the cockamamie mission. And so, that November Knox and his brother set off for New York. Who knew they would return in January with forty-three cannons, fourteen mortars, and two howitzers dragged across frozen rivers and over the snowy Berkshire Mountains on custom sleds. The is the derivation of that old Yankee proverb that if you can sell a book, you can move sixty tons of weaponry three hundred miles in winter.

So the moral of that story, other than never underestimate an independent bookseller, was that the Continental Army and its commander in chief had a soft spot for Chief Artillery Officer Henry Knox.

Sarah Vowell has a very distinctive voice and speaking style. She’s not for everyone so if you haven’t heard her you should listen to a sample of her narration first. I personally enjoy listening to her narrate her own books. I can’t imagine any other narrator would be able to strike just the right tone of snark at the right places.

It’s fun history and great for road trips.

Rating
4.5 stars 4.5/5 for the book

4 stars 4/5 for the narration

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Audiobook – Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Posted by on Aug 19, 2011 in 3 stars, Audio, Book Review, Sarah Vowell | 5 comments

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Genre: Non-Fictiom
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 2011
Read by: Sarah Vowell
Source: Library

The Short Version:
The history of Hawaii as seen and heard through Sarah Vowell’s unique viewpoint and voice.

Why I Read It:
We had listened to two of Sarah Vowell’s earlier audiobooks on road trips and purposely planned ahead to be able to listen to this newest one on our vacation trip this month.

The Book:
I’m going to go with the publisher’s description of this book because it’s hard for me to explain.

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

.

My Thoughts:
Once I’d heard that Sarah Vowell’s latest was about Hawaii I pretty much made The Hubster read James Michener’s epic novel Hawaii before we listened to Unfamiliar Fishes. I’m very glad I did. I think that going into this book without some background of the history of the islands and the people who settled them would make listening to Unfamiliar Fishes a bit confusing.

While the unique style of the author’s writing and reading are very much as much a part of this book as her others, I hesitate to recommend this one. While we enjoyed it, The Hubster and I agreed that if this had been our first Sarah Vowell audiobook we would not have been eager to seek out her others.

It was fun in places. It was interesting. It was thoroughly researched and entertainingly presented. It was not her best. If you’re looking for a fun road trip or just entertaining combination of history, humor and oddball bits of information, I’d recommend Vowell’s earlier books Assassination Vacation and The Wordy Shipmates, but I would not recommend this one as an introduction to her work.

It was harder to follow the history in this book than in the others. There seemed to be much more jumping around in time and asides that stretched into major detours than in the earlier books.

We enjoyed it, but without some previous knowledge of the subject matter I’m not sure we would have enjoyed it as much as we did.

Rating 3/5

 

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Audiobook – The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Posted by on Jun 17, 2011 in 2011, 4 stars, Audio, Book Review, Sarah Vowell | 3 comments

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 2008
Read by: Sarah Vowell
Source: Library

The Short Version:
Highly entertaining combination of historical facts, social commentary and humorous asides as Sarah Vowell explores the history of the Puritans who settled New England.

Why I Read It:
We enjoyed listening to Sara Vowell’s Assassination Vacation on our last road trip to Southern Oregon that we decided to get more of her books on audio. This was next up and we took another trip to Southern Oregon last weekend.

The Book:
This book is so hard for me to try to summarize that I’m going to use the publisher’s description.

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.

My Thoughts:
I’ll admit that although this was informative, entertaining and enjoyable and I liked it a lot, but not quite as much as Assassination Vacation. I would probably think differently if I had listened to this one before Assassination Vacation.

Sarah Vowell once again mixes history, social commentary, humor, sarcasm and just plain fun into a unique mix. This time around she takes a look at the Puritan settlement of New England. She notes early on that what she’s not talking about is Plymouth and the Mayflower and she’s also not talking about the Salem witch trials. As she points out these two places and small time periods are often the only part of the early New England that we study in school before jumping straight to the pre-revolutionary period. She’s right. Much of what she talks about in this book is information with which I was only marginally familiar.

She stars with the speech made by Joseph Cotton before the ship carrying the first group of settlers associated with the Massachusetts Bay company leaves England. She spends some time on John Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity. It’s ‘City on a hill’ imagery is strong and until Vowell talks about how much modern politicians have used that image, I had not realized how much I’ve heard it.

I enjoyed her thoughts on Roger Williams who was basically banished from Massachusetts and went on to establish Rhode Island. He was definitely at odds with the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and had some trouble keeping his mouth shut. On the other hand his thoughts on religious tolerance are something we all need to be talking more about even today.

Vowell’s voice and delivery are most definitely unique and take some getting used to, but also are a large part of why her audio books are such fun.

I will admit I love every time she ventures off into a story about her nephew Owen. They’re always wonderful.

Rating 4/5

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Audiobook – Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Posted by on Apr 26, 2011 in 2011, 4.5 stars, Audio, Book Review, Sarah Vowell | 4 comments


Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 2005
Read by: Sarah Vowell
Source: Library

The Short Version:
A fascinating and at the same time hilarious tour through the first three Presidential assassinations and the people and places connected to them.

Why I Read It:
It was this review at S. Krishna’s Books that convinced me to request this audiobook from the library. It sounded like just the thing for The Hubster and I to listen to on our road trip to Southern Oregon.

The Book:
I can’t possibly begin to summarize this book so I’m going to post the publisher’s description.

Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other — a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue — it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and — the author’s favorite — historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

My Thoughts:
Let me put it this way. The day after we finished listening to this, I logged on the library website and requested two more of Sarah Vowell’s audiobooks. She reads them herself and that’s the only way they would work. She’s a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life, so it’s perfect for her to read her own books.

This was just pure enjoyable listening. I loved the mixture of well known history, obscure facts and tidbits and the author’s asides.

The historical facts are fascinating and the verbal side trips the author takes while telling the story are also fascinating and often laugh out loud funny. It’s helped along by her deadpan delivery and voice (she voiced the teenage daughter in The Incredibles). The dry wit and delivery had us laughing so much at times that I had to back up the ipod because we’d missed something.

It was fun to learn some interesting tidbits of history as well as thoroughly entertaining listening. I’m now a fan of this historic tourism thing as told by Sarah Vowell.

The audiobook is abridged and while I normally avoid abridged audiobooks like the plague, I had been assured that it was still enjoyable and it also appears to be the only audio version available.

Rating 4.5/5

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