Synopses & Reviews
From the bestselling author of The Wordy Shipmates
, an examination of Hawaii, the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn.
Many think of 1776 as the defining year of American history, when 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 defining, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded first Cuba, then the Philippines, becoming an international superpower practically overnight.
Among the developments in these outposts of 1898, Vowell considers the Americanization of Hawaii the most intriguing. From the arrival of New England missionaries in 1820, their goal to Christianize the local heathen, to the coup d'tat of the missionaries' sons in 1893, which overthrew the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of beguiling, and often appealing or tragic, characters: whalers who fired 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, lepers, con men, Theodore Roosevelt, and the last Hawaiian queen, a songwriter whose sentimental ode Aloha 'Oe serenaded the first Hawaiian president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.
With her trademark smart-alecky insights and reporting, Vowell lights out to discover the off, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state, and in so doing finds America, warts and all.
"Recounting the brief, remarkable history of a unified and independent Hawaii, Vowell, a public radio star and bestselling author (The Wordy Shipmates), retraces the impact of New England missionaries who began arriving in the early 1800s to remake the island paradise into a version of New England. In her usual wry tone, Vowell brings out the ironies of their efforts: while the missionaries tried to prevent prostitution with seamen and the resulting deadly diseases, the natives believed it was the missionaries who would kill them: 'they will pray us all to death.' Along the way, and with the best of intentions, the missionaries eradicated an environmentally friendly, laid-back native culture (although the Hawaiians did have taboos against women sharing a table with men, upon penalty of death, and a reverence for 'royal incest'). Freely admitting her own prejudices, Vowell gives contemporary relevance to the past as she weaves in, for instance, Obama's boyhood memories. Outrageous and wise-cracking, educational but never dry, this book is a thought-provoking and entertaining glimpse into the U.S.'s most unusual state and its unanticipated twists on the familiar story of Americanization. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“Sarah Vowell is an intellectual melting pot. Her cleverness is gorgeously American…” – Los Angeles Times
“Its scintillating cast includes dour missionaries, genital-worshiping heathens, Teddy Roosevelt, incestuous royalty, a nutty Mormon, a much-too-merry monarch, President Obama, sugar barons, an imprisoned queen and Vowell herself, in a kind of 50th-state variety show. It’s a fun book…[a] playful, provocative, stand-up approach to history.”—The New York Times Book Review
“As entertaining and personable as it is informative.”—Washington Post
“Sarah Vowell is for my money, the best essayist/radio commentator/sit-down comic and pointy headed history geek in the business.”—Seattle Times
"History is everywhere in Hawaii. Imagine the three sides of a triangle in Honolulu: at one point is Pearl Harbor, home of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and site of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, arguably the most momentous day of the 20th century. At another corner is the Iolani Palace, the only palace in the U.S. and the place where the last queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, was locked up after the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893." Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
(Read the entire Oregonian review
From Puritans to heathens — Sarah Vowell takes on Hawaii in this New York Times
Of all the countries the United States invaded or colonized in 1898, Sarah 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 heathens, 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 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 Hawaiian-born president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.
With her trademark wry insights and reporting, Vowell sets out to discover the odd, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state. In examining the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn, she finds America again, warts and all.
About the Author
Hip, irreverent, and with a voice that NPR fans of This American Life instantly perk up to, Sarah Vowell makes both readers and listeners laugh out loud with her wry, comic observations on everything from politics to pop culture. She is the author of Radio On, Take the Cannoli, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, and The Wordy Shipmates. She lives in New York City.