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As for the killjoy thing, these were not the most lighthearted figures in American history.My real answer to these two question is another question. What I’m interested in—and this probably makes me a killjoy, come to think of it—is the Puritans’ ideas about freedom and community.
The long answer is that the people who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the so-called Great Migration between 16 were mostly highly educated, frequently scholarly people. I call them “quill crazy.” Considering they had so many chores, what with building a society from scratch, they did an awful lot of writing—sermons, letters, diaries, religious tracts.
Were the Puritans anything like today’s evangelical Christians, to whom they’re often compared?
This is Vowell’s best, longest, sharpest and, oddly enough, least overtly “Vowellian” book.
The historical narrative takes up the vast majority of the pages, and it doesn’t take long for you to realize this was the story she was born to tell.
As she put it in a conversation with Seth Mnookin, “I’m always trying to get away from that textbook mentality.”If American history told with a light, smart-alecky touch sounds like your bag, here’s a suggested reading order.
(which culminated in watching it every day in college), and an essay on Vowell’s and her sister Amy’s visit to the sites involved in the Trail of Tears, the infamous forced relocation of Native Americans in the mid-1800s (Vowell is part Cherokee; 1/8 on her mother’s side and 1/16 on her father’s). Not a bad claim to fame, but Vowell’s principal work as a popular historian is unfortunately overshadowed.Usually lacking proper chapter breaks, her history books play like passionate, extended essays, encyclopedically constructed and always fun to read.I think a more interesting, accurate, and important way we’re a Puritan nation is the legacy of Winthrop’s, and then Reagan’s, idea of America as city on a hill, as a beacon of hope, as God’s pet project.Namely, the idea that America is always “good.” Were the Puritans really as sexually repressed as the stereotype would have it? This book doesn’t particularly deal with that first question much.But what do you think peoplereally mean by that, and is it in any way related to our actual Puritan heritage?Generally, Americans call ourselves a Puritan nation as a lazy way of saying that as a culture we are sexually repressed.Assassination Vacation is Vowell’s most popular book and also the most pivotal of her career; it signaled her shift from essays to full-blown historical narratives with autobiographical bits sprinkled throughout.The book is one of her most purely enjoyable, detailing the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and Mc Kinley, as well as the bizarre events leading up to and following them; grim material for sure, but Vowell’s irreverent tone assures it never makes for a depressing read.I write about how, as a New Yorker, I was so comforted by the part of Winthrop’s sermon in which he called upon his shipmates to rejoice and mourn and suffer together “as members of the same body.” Then, all of the rhetoric leading up to the war smacked of the American exceptionalism that derives from Puritan notions of New Englanders as God’s new chosen people, Winthrop’s idea and ideal that Massachusetts should be “as a city upon a hill.” And, since no one had adopted that phrase as a personal motto like Reagan, when Sandra Day O’Connor read part of Winthrop’s sermon at Reagan’s funeral, during a time when everyone in the world had Abu Ghraib on the brain, when she stood there in front of the current president and various members of his administration who got us into that whole mess, when she read the part where Winthrop warns that “the eyes of all people are upon us,” it hit home how much Winthrop and his fellows are still with us.It’s commonplace to say that we’re a Puritan nation.