Unfamiliar Fishes (CBR4 #35)

In Unfamiliar Fishes Sarah Vowell brings to life the time in the history of the United States when it transforms into a world power for the first time and begins to most closely resemble the United States we have today.. Set with a Hawaiian backdrop Vowell explores the reality of missionaries and imperialistic conquests at the end of the Spanish-American War.


Vowell accomplishes in her writing a goal I can only hope to dream of achieving. She makes history relatable and interesting while also doing the legwork and primary source research to substantiate the thesis. Vowell’s books are intended to entertain as well as educate so occasionally locating the thesis is not the easiest thing, but here’s the big ideas of this work: the United States as we know it, and particularly the 50th state, show the long-term effects of missionaries and trades people on indigenous populations.


While this work focuses on the missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the sailors who arrived on Hawaii’s shores as part of the whaling and later sugar trades, it is the larger story of the transformation of the archipelago from the time of Kamehameha I to the dethroning of Queen Liliuokalani and the Americanization of those islands. It is not always an easy read, and it’s another example of a work without chapter breaks (and 235 pages), but it is a fascinating piece of our history which is often overlooked in a typical education. So pick it up and learn some things you didn’t know and have a laugh along the way.


About Katie

Museum professional, caffeine junkie, book lover, student of history, overall goofball.

2 thoughts on “Unfamiliar Fishes (CBR4 #35)

  1. […] interesting while also doing the legwork and primary source research to substantiate the thesis. More here. Share this:ShareTwitterFacebookEmailDiggStumbleUpon Posted by faintingviolet in 3 stars – a good […]

  2. […] and the Trail of Tears Vowell is honing her craft in this 2000 work for what will come later: Unfamiliar Fishes about the imperialistic conquest of Hawaii, and The Wordy Shipmates where she looks at the original […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s