"Let us thank God for having given us such Mayflower picks up at the exact moment Wordy Shipmates leaves off; Philbrick isn't as easy to read, but his history is much more clearly laid out.
(It also suffers in comparison to Tony Horwitz, who - in books like A Voyage Long and Strange - combines Vowell's snappy style with Philbrick's careful history.)
Vowell goes off on many, many tangents about things like Reagan and 9/11; I already know both those things sucked. There's a lot about a trip she took with her nephew; I get the impression that's what she does, and it's what Horwitz does too (I wonder if I'd be as pleased with him now as I was a couple of years ago?), but it didn't work for me here. I'm interested in this part of history, and I'm fascinated by her idea to look at Puritans through their literature - which is sermons, because that's all they wrote - because I took a class on early American lit in college that included many of these sermons. They were boring then, and Vowell does a passable job of interesting me in them more...but not quite as good a job as I'd hoped. I wanted more of that, and less travelogue.
I'm pretty sure Vowell's point is to reclaim Puritans for liberals; she disparages Reagan's frequent allusions to them, saying he totally missed the point. The Puritans were a more literate, and tolerant, society than we give them credit for. I don't think she really proves that point, though; in the end, I think the Puritans basically were intolerant assholes, and you can't do much to whitewash it.
I sound pretty down on this book, but I gave it three stars. If you like your history very light and easy, you could do worse than this book. It just didn't leave a hell of an impression.