Unfamiliar Fishes

Sarah Vowell
From the bestselling author of The Wordy Shipmates, comes 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.


Reviewed: 2021-04-22
I have to admit I listened to the last third of this book at triple speed, which oddly enough didn't make her voice sound any stranger. I enjoy her take on history, but I think I need to switch over to reading her books as opposed to listening - her celebrity casting doesn't really bring much extra to the experience, since the stars read such short snippets. Also I never seem to retain any of the information imparted in her books, although now I understand why you get rice AND macaroni salad as your two sides at the Hawaiian BBQ restaurant in town.
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@newspalding completed #unfamiliarfishes... on 2021-10-20