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America Declares Independence [Hardcover]

by Alan Dershowitz
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)


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Book Description

March 14, 2003 0471264822 978-0471264828 1
The Declaration of Independence as you've never seen it before

Some of us cherish it with near-scriptural reverence. Others simply take it for granted. In this contentious new look at the Declaration of Independence, however, celebrated attorney Alan Dershowitz takes ""America's birth certificate"" and its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, to task.

Dershowitz searches for the sources, history, and underlying reasoning that produced the Declaration and its particular language, from its reference to the ""Laws of Nature and Nature's God"" through the long list of complaints against the abuses of King George III. He points out contradictions within the document, notes how the meanings of Jefferson's words have changed over the centuries, and asks many disturbing questions, including:
* Where do rights come from?
* Do we have ""unalienable rights""?
* Do rights to ""life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"" have any meaning?
* How could slaveowners claim to believe that ""all men are created equal""?
* Is the God of the Declaration the God of the Bible?
* Does the Declaration establish a Christian State?
* Are there ""Laws of Nature and of Nature's God""?


Challenging, upsetting, and controversial, this brilliant polemic may anger you, delight you, or force you to reexamine your opinions. One thing's for sure: after reading America Declares Independence, you'll never take the Declaration of Independence for granted again.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

These are dire times for the Declaration of Independence, Dershowitz believes. The religious right has hijacked the document for its own wily purposes, holding that phrases such as "Nature's God," "Creator" and "Divine Providence" are proof that the Founding Fathers intended America to be an explicitly Christian nation. Not so, cries the noted Harvard Law School professor and prolific author (Supreme Injustice, etc.). To prove his case, Dershowitz focuses mainly on Thomas Jefferson, showing that the Declaration's principal author thought most of the Bible was superstitious drivel: he did not believe in miracles, the devil or anything in the Gospels except that certain words were spoken by Jesus. Rather, Jefferson believed in a deistic God, who set the world in motion and then went on vacation. Jefferson didn't think religion should have anything to do with politics. Thus, Dershowitz says, when Jefferson used the phrases "Nature's God" and "Divine Providence," his contemporaries-most of whom were also deists -understood and approved of his intent. This argument is fine (if familiar) up to a point. But then Dershowitz proves himself nearly as guilty as his foes of "hijacking" the Declaration for his own political goals, attacking enemies like Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Dershowitz also toys with some impossibly speculative ideas, such as that Jefferson would have believed in evolution. There have been many fine books written about Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence; readers can find some of them listed in the endnotes to this threadbare addition to Wiley's Turning Points series. Still, the author being a ubiquitous media presence, the book will garner attention and sales.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

* These are dire times for the Declaration of Independence, Dershowitz believes. The religious right has hijacked the document for its own wily purposes, holding that phrases such as ""Nature's God,"" ""Creator"" and ""Divine Providence"" are proof that the Founding Fathers intended America to be an explicitly Christian nation. Not so, cries the noted Harvard Law School professor and prolific author (Supreme Injustice, etc.). To prove his case, Dershowitz focuses mainly on Thomas Jefferson, showing that the Declaration's principal author though most of the Bible was superstitious drivel: he did not believe in miracles, the devil or anything in the Gospels except that certain words were spoken by Jesus. Rather, Jefferson believed in a deistic God, who set the world in motion and then went on vacation. Jefferson didn't think religion should have anything to do with politics. Thus, Dershowitz says, when Jefferson used the phrases ""nature's God"" and ""Divine Providence,"" his contemporaries - most of whom were also deists - understood and approved of his intent. This argument is fine (if familiar) up to a point. But then Dershowitz proves himself nearly as guilty as his foes of ""hijacking"" the Declaration for his own political goals, attaching enemies like Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Dershowitz also toys with some impossibly speculative ideas, such as that Jefferson would have believed in evolution. There have been many fine books written about Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence; readers can find some of them listed in the endnotes to this threadbare addition to Wiley's Turning Points series. Still, the author being a ubiquitous media presence, the book will garner attention and sales. Agent, Helen Rees. (Apr.) (Publishers Weekly, March 3, 2003)

""...this book stands as a testament to the diversity of opinion that can exisst under one flag"". (Bookpage, July 2003)


Product Details

  • Series: Turning Points in History (Book 9)
  • Hardcover: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471264822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471264828
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ is a Brooklyn native who has been called 'the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer' and one of its 'most distinguished defenders of individual rights,' 'the best-known criminal lawyer in the world,' 'the top lawyer of last resort,' and 'America's most public Jewish defender.' He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg. While he is known for defending clients such as Anatoly Sharansky, Claus von B'low, O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Mike Tyson, he continues to represent numerous indigent defendants and takes half of his cases pro bono. Dershowitz is the author of 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including 6 bestsellers. His writing has been praised by Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, David Mamet, William Styron, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Elie Wiesel. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide, in numerous languages, and more than a million people have heard him lecture around the world. His most recent nonfiction titles are The Case For Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can be Resolved (August 2005, Wiley); Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (November 2004, Basic Books), The Case for Israel (September 2003, Wiley), America Declares Independence, Why Terrorism Works, Shouting Fire, Letters to a Young Lawyer, Supreme Injustice, and The Genesis of Justice. His novels include The Advocate's Devil and Just Revenge. Dershowitz is also the author of The Vanishing American Jew, The Abuse Excuse, Reasonable Doubts, Chutzpah (a #1 bestseller), Reversal of Fortune (which was made into an Academy Award-winning film), Sexual McCarthyism and The Best Defense.

Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
(13)
2.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars America Did Not Just Happen May 1, 2003
Format:Hardcover
I second the motion in the review of Aug. 19, 2003, "A good idea -- but hardley original", that Alan Dershowitz could have put his incredible talents to even further use by laying out the philosophy of history behind America's founding, and examining and explaining how America did not just happen, but is the result of a long evolution of blood, sweat, tears, and suffering for freedom. But, that is not to take away from the fact that "America Declares Independence" is very well written, very interesting, and very much a 5 star book. It comes to you highly recommended by this reader. And, if you value my recommendation, I would also recommend that, after you read Mr. Dershowitz's book, read Norman Thomas Remick's book, "West Point: Character Leadership Education, A Book Developed From The Readings And Writings Of Thomas Jefferson", a book that does explain how America did not just happen, but was the result of a long evolution of blood, sweat, tears, and suffering for freedom.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book June 20, 2003
Format:Hardcover
One the most difficult things to figure out when examining the life of Thomas Jefferson is why he could write such powerful documents, full of respect for human life and human dignity, and still own, at one period of his life, 267 slaves. The author of this book attempts to explain and conjecture his reasons for this, and other things of more relevance to the present time. The author's main emphasis is to negate an idea held in his view by the "Religious Right", namely that the United States is a "Christian country" and was intended to be so by the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He does so successfully, and gives ample historical references for his arguments. However, individuals like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson cannot be said to represent the entire "Religious Right", even if they claim to, and even if this claim is imputed to them by the author. And further, even though the author has refuted their arguments about the Christian nature of the founding documents, this still does not refute the claim that the United States "should" be a Christian nation. The "Religious Right"could perhaps acknowledge the arguments of the author as true and then consequently advocate the founding documents be rejected and a Christian nation be formed. This has not been suggested yet by the "Religious Right" (that I have heard), but could be in the near future. Religion and toleration are usually immiscible, and if backed into a corner, religion has throughout history proven itself extremely dangerous and has exhibited brutality going beyond all rational bounds.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Declare Your Independence! April 21, 2003
Format:Hardcover
In his monograph America Declares Independence, Alan Dershowitz wrests our country's founding document from the clutches of right-wing fundagelicals who want to turn the Declaration of Independence into a call for a born-again America. Thomas Jefferson, a deist, was the primary author of the Declaration, and his God was the God of Newton and the Enlightenment. The most conservative members of the Continental Congress, such as the Calvinists, wouldn't have recognized the God of the modern fundamentalists. And, Heaven forbid, there were Unitarians and Quakers who voted on the Declaration, too! Dershowitz also holds forth on the meaning [if any] of natural law and tries to untangle the confusing persona of a man who could write the Declaration AND own slaves. If you are interested in finding out how the secular nation founded by the Founding Fathers could become the most religiously diverse nation on the planet [and include fundamentalists who have the right to believe in and speak of a so-called Christian nation of the Founding Fathers], America Declares Independence would be a good place to start.
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A good idea -- but hardly original April 19, 2003
Format:Hardcover
This could have been a great book, as one certainly expects from Alan Dershowitz; unfortunately, it reflects the American belief that democracy was invented here rather than realizing this country is part of a long evolution of freedom.
Dershowitz, a renowned Harvard law school professor and frequent commentator on individual rights, wastes most of his effort refuting, rejecting and attacking the Religious Right rather than understanding such people are the bell weather of American freedom. He doesn't seem to understand the impact of the Religious Right (or the Radical Left) is in inverse proportion to the level of freedom in this or any other country -- as the absolute rule of the Taliban religious extremists certainly proved in Afghanistan.
However, zealots exist in very society. Perhaps they counterbalance each other; if they become part of the Establishment, they crimp the freedom of everyone. Dershowitz uses the massive artillery of his intellect to attack the limited acumen of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Alan Keyes -- as if Justice Louis Brandeis would have been profitably employed attacking Father Coughlin.
Dershowitz doesn't seem to understand that freedom and individual rights have constantly evolved in Anglo society for more than a thousand years. Democracy wasn't invented when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, cribbing many ideas from the English Bill of Rights written in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Freedom and democracy is a constant and uneven struggle, not an accident or gift .
The Declaration of Independence was a quantum leap forward in defining some basic ideas of freedom, but it was not the end of the process.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a Real Text Book
This was purchased as a text book for a humanities class, but all it really contains is and atheists rant on why the Declaration of Independence actually isn't a Christian document... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Dave Ploense
2.0 out of 5 stars A Good Idea Gone Wrong
Bringing together a good idea and a good writer doesn't necessarily make a good book - unfortunately. Read more
Published on July 24, 2009 by Christopher L. Webber
3.0 out of 5 stars A shaply focused look from another angle
This book will really make you think about the "real" meaning of words in important documents used by Jefferson and others (you would expect that from lawyer at Harvard). Read more
Published on January 21, 2006 by andris virsnieks
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clear View
Many may not agree with what this author has to say, but as an historian, I think he has done a superb job delineating the true origins and motivations that went into the writing... Read more
Published on November 25, 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars reads like a first draft rather than a complete book
Dershowitz has some interesting ideas, but does not flesh them out as fully as he could (especially in the first third of the book, focusing on the religious origins of the... Read more
Published on November 9, 2003 by Michael Lewyn
1.0 out of 5 stars Deplorable History
Alan Dershowitz has really outdone himself this time. Although it is true that the "Nature's God" of the Declaration of Independence is not the god of the Bible, and that Jefferson... Read more
Published on June 24, 2003 by G. F Gori
1.0 out of 5 stars If interested in unfounded ranting...read this book.
As honestly and objective as I can be...in reading this, the best analogy that I can make is that Dershowitz had too much wine one evening arguing with a friend about some perverse... Read more
Published on April 29, 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars America Declares Independence
This is a fascinating look at the Declaration of Independence. Dershowitz offers an almost controversial interpretation of the actual document which shaped our country. Read more
Published on March 31, 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Worth My Time And Money
In my opinion, this is a breathless misrepresentation of everything America holds dear, and, it leaves me speechless. Read more
Published on March 31, 2003
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