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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.
That it’s such a compelling story makes Vowell’s tendency to drift into anti-Reagan tirades and down pop culture rabbit holes particularly annoying.
The narrative thankfully settles into place by about the halfway point and contains killer passages about two colonists banished from Massachusetts: Roger Williams, a minister who went on to live with the Wampanoags, a Native American tribe, and write the first English book about a Native American language, and Anne Hutchison, a midwife who hosted Bible study groups in which she questioned the teachings of colonial clergy.comes next.
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.
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?
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.