Sarah Vowell Essays The Partly Cloudy Patriot

Assassination Vacation is Vowell’s most popular book and also the most pivotal of her career; it signaled her shift from essays to full-blown historical narratives with autobiographical bits sprinkled throughout.The book is one of her most purely enjoyable, detailing the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and Mc Kinley, as well as the bizarre events leading up to and following them; grim material for sure, but Vowell’s irreverent tone assures it never makes for a depressing read.

Sarah Vowell Essays The Partly Cloudy Patriot-39Sarah Vowell Essays The Partly Cloudy Patriot-49

My real answer to these two question is another question. What I’m interested in—and this probably makes me a killjoy, come to think of it—is the Puritans’ ideas about freedom and community.

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.

Why did you decide to write a book about the New England Puritans?

I can probably pin it down to how I kept thinking about John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” during three events between 20—the terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq, and Ronald Reagan’s funeral.

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