Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes

Book - 2011
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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'état 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.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781594487873
Branch Call Number: 996.9 VOW 2011 22
Characteristics: 238 p. ; 22 cm


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Nov 18, 2017

Just here to agree - it's wonderful, she's whip-smart and funny/droll/precise and rather irresistible. Beautifully integrated telling of the tale - sad though it is.

Sep 03, 2016

As one of the blurbs on the back cover stated, Vowell could make a trip to the DMV entertaining. This sad and embarassing story of the US's destruction of a culture was certainly entertaining - and really, when reading about something tragic that is in the past, what can one do but laugh and hope to learn. Hope springs eternal, folks, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. This book was funny, sarcastic, and full of little known (to me) facts and tidbits. I really enjoyed this book and will certainly be reading others of Vowell's.

Jun 14, 2014

wonderfully sassy telling of how Hawaii got colonized

Dec 31, 2013

Hawaiian history told with a dry sense of humor.

Oct 31, 2013

I love Sarah Vowell and the way she presents her knowledge. She has many tidbits of American history and the way (in part) that we shaped the world. She cracks me up and sometimes makes me shake my head at our ability to think we know best.
Her books are always a fun read.

Mar 20, 2013

Just like her photo shows on the cover flaps, Ms Vowell is a no-nonsense researcher. I have visited the islands a few times and now know I will bring her newest book about Hawai'ian history with me next time! She is witty, enjoyably thorough, and brings an interesting viewpoint to American religious, secular and political expansionalsim. If you recognize her voice as Violet in the animated movie 'The Incredibles,' you know the determination. Full points for this adventure into history!

Mar 02, 2013

I listened to the audio version. I wasn't sure about hearing Sarah Vowell's voice for 7 discs, but it grows on you. And you know the inflections are how the author intended. Also, she has some great cameo readers.

Way back when I was in high school, I thought I didn't like history as a subject. I now realize I didn't like the way history was taught. Vowell's history of Hawaii is one of the most entertaining non-fictions books I've ever encountered. Some of the history is grim, and she doesn't skip that. But she keeps it so interesting.

This book is thoroughly researched and even-handed. At times I laughed out loud and at other times I was just appalled at some happenings. I most appreciated her penchant for including a broader context for all the anecdotes.

Hearing how much water it takes to grow sugar cane might be very good for my diet.

Aug 22, 2012

Interesting take on Hawaiian history with a lot of details I was unfamiliar with.

sharonb122 Jun 29, 2012

I was able to visit Hawaii this winter, so that added to my interest while reading another insightful book from Sarah Vowell. I always appreciate her humor and her dark irony. Some of the book was a little slower for me with all the names, dates. It worked well that she was able to tie in Pres. Obama--brings history into today quite well! The book was very thought provoking giving the Hawaiian, US and missionary viewpoints. I appreciated the last pages where Vowell put the story of Hawaii into perspective in the context of the rest of American history.

Jul 18, 2011

Vowell brings her highly amusing (and highly discursive) explorations of the dark side of US history to Hawaii. For me, Vowell's writing never has the same bite as hearing her on NPR, but her stance as the "not-so-ugly" American is always worth reading.

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