Sarah Vowell signs on Friday March 25, 2011 at 7:00 PM.
Harvard Book Store is thrilled to welcome popular historian and public radio personality SARAH VOWELL as she discusses her newest book, Unfamiliar Fishes.
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.
“Ever-clever NPR contributor Vowell offers a quick, idiosyncratic account of Hawaii from the time Capt. James Cook was dispatched to the then–Sandwich Islands to the end of the 19th century, when the United States annexed the islands…. The author presents the views of the islanders as well as the invaders, as she delves into journals and narratives and takes field trips with local guides. Her characteristic light touch is evident throughout. Lively history and astute sociology make a sprightly chronicle of a gorgeous archipelago and its people.” —Kirkus Reviews