Well, let me restate that. This is a great book if you enjoy bitter atheists. The only thing that would make it worse; if the very monotone, bitter author read it herself. Oh, wait she did.
I am not a Christian, so this is not about me not liking her because of her views. It is simply that there is so much resentment and anger on the top, I could not find the story below.
I am was so disappointed because I love nonfiction and historical nonfiction, in particular.
Make it more factual
Someone with a less annoying voice
I felt that the author cherry-picked some of the facts and didn't go into enough depth on many of them. Her sarcastic "white-bashing" got very irritating at times.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
Sarah Vowell is a unique historian. She may be the only historian known as much for her unique speaking voice as she is for her writing. She has been a regular on This American Life, the voice of the daughter on the movie The Increadibles and is the author of six books.
So it is her voice (both actually and literary) that will lead you to love or hate her. To get an idea of her actual voice you can watch the book trailer below. But that will really only matter if you want to listen to the audiobook (which I did.)
The literary voice is another matter. Vowell is a historian for the ADD world. She is thorough, but the book is littered with bunny trails. She writes as much about the process and people she meets while doing research as she does about the topic. So we will hear about the guides on tours and people she meets in libraries. Her nephew Owen pops up frequently in her books because she seems to frequently travel with her sister and nephew. These comments bring a grounding to her work and let the reader really understand her as an author. But if you are more interested in the actual subject than the author, you might not like Sarah Vowell’s books.
In some ways, Unfamiliar Fishes is a sequel her last book. Wordy Shipmates explored the founding of New England and the Pilgrims. Unfamiliar Fishes looks at Hawaii, from its early history to its introduction to the US as a territory. (I actually would have liked to know more about how it became a state.) Much of the colonizing effort in Hawaii was the result of American Missionaries from New England, the children and grandchildren of the subjects of Wordy Shipmates. Vowell has a unique relationship to American Christianity. She is the grandchild of a pastor and while not a practicing Christian, she is fluent in and has great respect for the motivation of Christian and these New Englanders’ in particular. That does not mean she really agrees with them as she will tell you frequently.
Say something about yourself!
I am one of those who had a bad reaction to her voice. If I could give no stars for performance I would have. It did not "grow" on me. Nasally, then, lispy. What is there to "grow" on the listener? Few, very few authors can read their own writing and get away with it. Stephen King can. So can David Sedaris. Indeed David's voice is part of the charm. Not so here. Not so humorous, not so interesting. A great conceit and arrogance of the author in reading her own stuff. A dud for me.
I have quit on only a handful of over 800 books in my Audible library. This, alas, is one of those books. Overrated and much too self consciously precious for me. Save your credits!
I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
From the arrival of Captain Cook, to the missionaries, to the businessmen and politicians who orchestrate the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, Vowell's book is a fascinating and upsetting in-depth look at the Americanization (and eventual annexation) of Hawaii. This is not your typical tourist fare.
I knew what to expect from Vowell's reading, and don't have any issues with her voice (if you're not familiar with Vowell, definitely check out the sample to see if it'll be too much for you).
The supporting cast is generally fine, but Keanu Reeves is shocking great as David Malo. I think I could listen to him read Malo's Hawaiian Antiquities and be content.
Definitely worth checking out if you're at all interested in the history of Hawaii.
Say something about yourself!
I tried to finish it, but threw in the towel at the 1/3 point. The use of the guest narrators for the quotations is awful and ruins the flow of the book. I am sure somewhere in the book is a good story, but I had hard time finding it as it was buried in the guest narrator's and Sarah's quirky comments.
IMO - there are lots of better history books out there. I am not sure what the fuss is about this one and her other ones. But I can't recommend it and don't plan on trying any of her other books.
ms vowell has written another well researched interesting tome and as always,adds her humorous twists,odd angles,and gentle sarcasm to a steady revelry of ironical prose. a 5 star recommendation!
I am sure there is fascinating Hawaiian history to be found in this book. I just could not hear it between all the bitterness of the author.
The only thing that would have made the book worse, would be the author reading it. Oh wait, she did. Monotone and bitter. I can sum up the story in one sentence. Hawaii was ruined by the Christians.
I am not Christian, but I was so irritated by her constant monotone complaining and blaming, that I could not find the story beneath it. Our whole world develops based on choices people make of beliefs (religion) and politics. It has since the beginning of time.
I would had loved to hear about Hawaii's history, including how the missionaries and the natives choice to follow them affected Hawaii. I'll just need to find a more balanced and less monotone author.
I'm a pop culture writer and editor living in San Francisco who commutes about half an hour with audio books five days a week. I go through a lot of audio books.
I adore Sarah Vowell, but this audiobook could have used less A-list talent, and more details. While it sounds awesome to have Fred Armisen, Edward Norton, and Catherine Keener all voicing characters in an audiobook, it's actually jarring.
Vowell tends to favor brief quotes and orphan quotes in her work (that's when part of the sentence is prose, and another part is a quote). That means you often find four or five word quotes in her work that in an audiobook are spoken by a different voice actor. So you go Vowell for half the sentence, John Slattery for five words, then Vowell again. It takes me out of the experience.
"Unfamiliar Fishes" is an awesome starting point for Hawaiian history, but Vowell is arguably too judicious here with the economy of her words and story. We learn about King Kamehameha and his children, but I found myself reading their Wikipedia entries just so I could fully follow along.
Where "Assassination Vacation" felt like it had just the right mix of quick pace, personal detail, and actual history, "Fishes" moves so fast I had a hard time keeping track of the characters, each of which pops up as a brand new voice from Vowell's cadre of famous fans.
I enjoyed this less than I wanted to. I wanted to love it like I loved her other books. I've listened to them multiple times. This was good. It was an obscure bit of American history that I've never heard before - namely Hawaiian history. I only knew the basics. There is much more to the story. I am sorry to say that I didn't finish it. I'm not sure why. I think that at some point - 3/4 of the way through - I just didn't feel compelled to keep listening. Her other books are brilliant. I'll give this one another try.