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.
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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 FordCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved