The Skimmer

The Wordy Shipmates By Sarah Vowell Riverhead; 254 pages

As Sarah Vowell warns early on in The Wordy Shipmates, "Readers who squirm at microscopic theological differences might be unsuited to read a book about seventeenth-century Christians." She's right, for despite some lively writing, much of her tale of the settlers who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony involves internecine Calvinist squabbling. Thankfully, Vowell, author of the sharply funny armchair histories Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot, injects a bit of Technicolor into her portraits of the stereotypically drab colonists: feisty prefeminist Anne Hutchinson, semicrazed zealot Roger Williams and the colony's first...