One of my favourite contemporary humorists, Sarah Vowell, was born on December 27, 1969. She has written seven books on historical topics, well researched and with a decidedly liberal slant, told with sly deadpan wit.
Vowell was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Wyoming and is part Cherokee. (“Being at least a little Cherokee in northeastern Oklahoma is about as rare and remarkable as being a Michael Jordan fan in Chicago,” she says.)
She was a contributor to This American Life on National Public Radio in the United States for years, touring the country for her quirky reports on little-known historical topics.
Her books cover a wide array of American subjects. Right now I am reading her latest book, 2015’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, about the young aristocratic Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, who became George Washington’s aide and close friend.
Among her other books are Unfamiliar Fishes, about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the American annexation of the islands; The Wordy Shipmates, about the New England Puritans and Assassination Vacation, an off-beat road- trip to the memorials of assassinated American presidents.
Vowell has a distinctive rather childlike voice and has provided the voice-over of Violet in the animated Pixar film The Incredibles.
Here are some of Vowell’s observations:
“The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War — when I really think about them they all seem about as likely as the parting of the Red Sea.”
“History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between.”
“The true American patriot is by definition skeptical of the government.”
“Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot.”
“Assassins and presidents invite the same basic question: Just who do you think you are?”