I read a lot, and I mean a lot, of history books! I love the traditional, academic, published-by-an-academic-press, written-by-a-PhD history book. But I often recommend the lighter fair for those who aren’t pursuing a degree in history or are looking for a way to get excited about history. One of my favorite authors of these types of books is Sarah Vowell. I often recommend her book on the Puritans as an entryway into those often stereotyped fuddy-duddies. While The Wordy Shipmates adds nothing new to the scholarship of Puritans, Vowell’s tongue-in-cheek writing style that includes a comparison of seventeenth-century pamphlet wars to contemporary cable pundit wars makes the Puritans an approachable group.
I am eagerly anticipating Vowell’s newest work, Unfamiliar Fishes, that is due out March 22, 2011. On the anniversary of the US Maine‘s explosion that signaled the beginning of the Spanish-American war and arguably American imperialism and having recently been doing some reading on American imperialism, namely Paul Kramer’s underwhelming The Blood of Government, I look forward to the Vowell treatment on the topic. This morning I read an excerpt from her new book and she didn’t disappoint. You too can take a sneak peek here. In this snippet from her new book, Vowell brings her reader into the Hawaiian culture that has been influenced by its invaders by beginning with a description her Hawaiian plate lunch. Immediately I got it, I’ve often wondering why mayonnaise-drowned macaroni salad always accompanied my Hawaiian meals. And as soon as I read the Vowell’s connection between her lunch and turn-of-the-century American imperialism, I was in… and immediately saddened that I still had over a month to wait for the rest of the book!
What I love most about Vowell’s writing style is that no only does she provide a fun way to approach history but she also brings her reader along with her on her adventure of discovering such history. Vowell does this best in one of my all time favorite book’s Assassination Vacation (although I highly recommend the audio version). If this book doesn’t at least get you interested in visiting public history sites, well I just don’t know what will! No post about Vowell’s books would be complete with a shout out to my friend Mike who introduced me to Assassination Vacation years ago (Mike is also a wonderful chef and author of the blog Kitchen Coach).
So for those of you looking for more fun ways to learn about history or for history teachers trying desperately to get your students to get as excited as you do about American history, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell’s books. And if you’re like me, you’ll be eagerly counting down until March 22 to get your next Vowell fix.