April 8, 2011


Sarah Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes (New York:Riverhead Books, 2011) ("I tracked down Denis Diderot's mission statement for the encyclopedia and wrote in on a purple index card I tacked up next to my desk as a talisman: 'All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone's feelings'." "Hawaiians, I discovered, take a different approach to collecting, discussing, and presenting information. . . ." Id. at 27. "It is worth pointing out that disregard for the feeling of others who disagree is the one thing shared by New England theologians and French philosophers (along with New Bedford whalers, Hawaii-born queen-usurpers, President McKinley, and New York writers finding inspiration in quotations about how it's fine to be a jackass as long as you're trying to tell the truth). In America, on the ordinate plane of faith versus reason, the x axis of faith intersects with the y axis of reason at the zero point of 'I don't give a damn what you think.' " Id. at 28. From the book jacket: "Many think of 1776 as the most defining year of American history, the year we became a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell argues that 1898 might be a year just as crucial to our nation's identity, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded Cuba, and then the Philippines, becoming a meddling, self-serving, militaristic international superpower practically overnight." "Of all the countries the United States invaded or colonized in 1898, Vowell considers the story of the Americanization of Hawaii to be the most intriguing. . . .").