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America's Constitution: A Biography 1st Edition(PB) Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812972726
ISBN-10: 0812972724
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. You can read the U.S. Constitution, including its 27 amendments, in about a half-hour, but it takes decades of study to understand how this blueprint for our nation's government came into existence. Amar, a 20-year veteran of the Yale Law School faculty, has that understanding, steeped in the political history of the 1780s, when dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation led to a constitutional convention in Philadelphia, which produced a document of wonderful compression and balance creating an indissoluble union.Amar examines in turn each article of the Constitution, explaining how the framers drew on English models, existing state constitutions and other sources in structuring the three branches of the federal government and defining the relationship of the that government to the states.Amar takes on each of the amendments, from the original Bill of Rights to changes in the rules for presidential succession. The book squarely confronts America's involvement with slavery, which the original Constitution facilitated in ways the author carefully explains.Scholarly, reflective and brimming with ideas, this book is miles removed from an arid, academic exercise in textual analysis. Amar evokes the passions and tumult that marked the Constitution's birth and its subsequent revisions. Only rarely do you find a book that embodies scholarship at its most solid and invigorating; this is such a book.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Amar, a Yale Law School professor, approaches the Constitution with a perspective that is both accessible and unconventional. He gets into the formative process of our most revered doctrine of governance by placing it in the context of law, history, and political science. Yet he broadens his focus beyond the Philadelphia constitutional convention to include popular conversation and competing values. Amar views America's foundation as a corporate merger, reflecting 13 colonies with different legal charters and interests. He raises central questions: Was the constitutional process democratic? Was it pro-slavery? He explores the context of the subsequent amendments, initially the Bill of Rights, then those associated with the Reconstruction era through the civil rights era. Amar dares to incorporate contemporary concerns around the amendments that have often prodded us toward achieving our otherwise unrealized ideals. There is a fluidity to Amar's analysis that contrasts with those strict constructionists and those with vested interests in the original intent of our Constitution, as if such ground were sacred. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Grade Level: 09 - 12
  • Lexile Measure: 1490L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st Edition(PB) edition (August 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812972724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812972726
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Amar explains in his postscript that his aim in writing this book was "to offer a comprehensive account of America's Constitution, introducing the reader both to the legal text (and its consequences) and to the political deeds that gave rise to that text." He has achieved this aim splendidly. This phrase-by-phrase guided tour through the document never fails to inform and provoke, whether or not one agrees with its author (and I don't always). It's also a very approachable book, in terms of both style and content. The knowledge base assumed here is considerable, but not forbidding: anybody with a good working knowledge of the Seven Articles and the better-known Amendments ought to be able to thread his way profitably through Amar's lucid and energetic narrative.

Amar considers himself a "textualist," which as far as I can tell amounts to a kind of principled "public-meaning" originalism of the kind advocated by Oliver Wendell Holmes and Robert Bork. His (very) close reading of the text is always informed by a knowledge of the range of plausible meanings available to 18th-century users of a given word or phrase, and generally (with some crucial exceptions--see below) by a comprehensive familiarity with the historical circumstances that led to the adoption of that word or phrase. At the same time, he stresses that the source of the Constitution's meaning must be located in the stated AND UNSTATED intentions of the document's authors AND RATIFIERS, to the extent that those intentions can be reliably recovered. In itself, this is an admirable approach; it avoids both the pitfalls of crude authorial-intent originalism (i.e., interpreting the Constitution by pretending to read James Madison's mind) and those of "loose constructionism" (i.e.
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Format: Hardcover
This is that rare book. Anyone interested in the history of the United States or it's government should read this book. Not necessarily because it settles anything but because it argues so well for positions that are not mainstream. You ignore Amar at the risk of your own ignorance.
Two things about the reading of this book. Read the Postscript both before and after the main text. This will greatly clarify
your understanding of Amar's purpose and methodology. Also, make sure to religiously read the footnotes. Much of the supporting data is to be therein as well as cogent outlines of many a scholarly debate.
Amar has two major overarching themes:
1. "...the Founder's Constitution was more democratic, more slavocratic and more geostrategically inspire than is generally recognized..." (p.471).
2. Amar focuses on the various acts of constitutional ratification and amendment as being maybe more important than the text itself.
His working of this last point is continually brilliant. For example, Amar focuses a lot on how Washington established many a precedent for the President. "This seemed particularly appropriate because the American people in 1787-1789 understood that the Constitutuion was designed for Washington, whose precedent-setting actions would...help concretize its meaning..." (p. 479 but see also p.134)
Another example has been mentioned by some of the other reviewers but is worth repeating. Amar points out that the vote for the delegates to the ratification conventions in the various states were more inclusive than usual. The Founders recognized that the legitimacy of the Constitution rested on popular sovreignity. In their cover letter to Congress presenting the Constitution, they explicitely called for the ratification by convention.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Amar advises U.S. Senators and the writers of "West Wing" on our constitution. He's also one of the most popular undergraduate professors at Yale. Thus I wasn't surprised that this biography of our Constitution was thoughtful and remarkable in its scope. What did surprise me was how easy it was to read and how fascinating it was on every page. This book should be required reading for Supreme Court Justices and high school American History teachers, and all sorts of folks in between.
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Format: Hardcover
America's Constitution follows the US Constitution, from the soaring brilliance of the preamble, through article 7 and each of the amendments. Amar describes in depth the historical and political background of each section and explains what the drafters had intended, why it was written with the particular words and expressions that were used, and the intended and unintended consequences of the choices made by the framers.

While without a doubt a worthy book, and one every American ought to read, I doubt most non-lawyers or academics can get through the dense prose. Though Amar makes a valiant effort to avoid legal jargon and shorthand, the book was clearly written by a legal scholar and often debates or rebukes contentions by other legal scholars of which the general public, including myself, are mostly ignorant. Prior familiarity with Publius is a prerequisite.

What I had hoped for from the description of this book was a David McCulloch-style history of the writing of the Constitution, explaining the 18th century text in 21st century terms. Instead, Amar often seems to imitate the style of the 18th century framers. To illustrate, here is a representative sentence taken at semi-random from near the beginning: "The conspicuous complementarily of these two sentences suggests that they might sensibly have been placed side by side, but the Philadelphia architects preferred instead to erect them at opposite ends of the grand edifice so that both the document's front portal and rear portico would project the message of popular sovereignty, American style."

This is actually a quite erudite sentence, for which the author is likely to have been rightly proud to have penned.
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