Unfamiliar Fishes

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Unfamiliar Fishes

Author: Sarah Vowell
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Copyright: 2011
Pages: 238
Cover Price: $ 25.95

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From the bestselling author of The Wordy Shipmates, an examination of Hawaii, the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn. 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'├ętat 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. With her trademark smart-alecky insights and reporting, Vowell lights out to discover the off, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state, and in so doing finds America, warts and all.

Background Information

The Hawaiian Islands were an independent monarchy but fell under the influence of American sugar growers and was eventually brought into the United States as first a territory and then a state in 1959. Manifest destinty was the view that America's domination of the North American continent from sea to sea was the manifest intention of God. Like Cuba, Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony until the Spanish-American War, but unlike Cuba, it came entirely under American administration. The United States had its first experience with people who didn't appreciate being liberated when they took the Philippines from Spain and then faced a native revolt. In 1893 an American-inspired revolt removed the Queen of Hawaii from her throne, but Grover Cleveland refused to let the annexation treaty through Congress. Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive political leader, conservationist, war hero and adventurer.