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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Inspiring, but also vague, eccentric and sometimes dysfunctional: that's the picture of the Constitution that emerges from this annotated guide. Lipsky, founding editor of the Jewish Forward and the defunct New York Sun, writes extended notes on every phrase in the Constitution and amendments, including obscure elements like letters of marque and reprisal. Citing commentators and landmark Supreme Court cases, he gives an evenhanded account of evolving interpretations of the Constitution and its influence on governance and politics. Lipsky's own predilections show mainly in his resurrection of the anti-Federalists and modern-day defenders of state sovereignty. While highlighting the Constitution's quirks, Lipsky says little about larger issues like the Senate's unequal representation of voters. This is a lively curio shop of Constitutional law and lore, but lacks analytic depth. (Nov.)
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.


Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic.com
“The most interesting mind in journalism.”

Gordon Crovitz, former publisher, the Wall Street Journal 
“From its earliest drafts, the U.S. Constitution was always meant to be read closely for its meaning, context, and intent. Seth Lispky has now undertaken an unprecedented labor in parsing the details of the document, clause by clause, and has produced, with great insight and wit, an extraordinary book — that will help to ensure that our founding and sustaining document gets the respect it deserves. It couldn't be more timely.”

Bernard Nussbaum, former White House counsel
“The history of our country — the history of our Constitution — is a series of great stories. And there is no better story teller than Seth Lipsky. Only he could take our Constitution, break it down, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word and tell the ongoing tale behind each of these provisions. And bring them to life with real people grappling with real issues. The Citizen’s Constitution is more than an annotation; it reads like a novel and will be enjoyed by all, lawyer and non-lawyer alike, for years to come."

James Grant, author of John Adams: Party of One
“Where did the Constitution come from? Where have we, the people, taken it? Seth Lipsky's wonderful Baedecker holds the answers. The ultimate user's manual of America's founding document.”

Jack Fuller, former editor and publisher, Chicago Tribune
“Whether you are a constitutional conservative or liberal, you need to start your thinking with what the words of the document meant when they were written and how their definition has changed in time. Seth Lipsky's annotated constitution is an invaluable resource for this purpose. With rigorous scholarship and delightful wit, Lipsky takes us through the nation's founding document, phrase by phrase. Though The Citizen’s Constitution is written to be understood by non-lawyers, I would be surprised if most lawyers don't learn a thing or two reading it. I certainly did.”

James Taranto,Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2009
“ . . . Mr. Lipsky's passion for the Constitution is a tonic for political depression.”

Jason Lewish, The Jason Lewish Show, November 18, 2009
“‘The Citizens Constitution: An Annotated Guide’ really is the go-to book for those of you just immersing yourselves in our founding document.”

New York Times, January 8, 2010
"…particularly good on the Constitution’s first two articles, which concern Congress and the presidency... [Lipsky] likes rascals and absurdities."

American Thinker, January 29, 2010
"Seth Lipsky's new book … is an essential volume for an educated citizenry.”

National Review Book Service
" ... The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide, is the easiest, fastest way to discover not only what the Constitution actually says, but also what it plainly means."

New York Times Book Review
“Entertaining…a magpie’s miscellany of curiosities.”

New Criterion
“One of our age’s great journalists…Lipsky writes, rather, for the layman, with a craftsman’s eye for what matters most, the simple yet pregnant text, and a newspaperman’s eye for color.” 

“Provide[s] interested citizens with an accessible starting point for understanding the meaning and history behind this great document that forms an essential part of the American idea.”

The American Spectator“[Lipsky is] a skillful and judicious editor…The best quality of The Citizen’s Constitution—and its most distinctive quality—is that it addresses the Constitution from the perspective of a sober citizen, rather than a sophisticated—or jaded—lawyer.”
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Revised Edition edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465021247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021246
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #525,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Seth Lipsky, the author of "The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide," has been described in the Boston Globe as "a legendary figure in contemporary journalism" and on TheAtlantic.com as possessing "the most interesting mind in journalism."

The founding editor of The New York Sun and, before that, of the Forward, Mr. Lipsky is a veteran of The Wall Street Journal, where was formerly foreign editor and a member of the editorial board. Mr. Lipsky was a private soldier in the United States Army and combat correspondent in Vietnam for Pacific Stars and Stripes.

The Citizen's Constitution is his third book. The first is an anthology he edited, "The Billion Dollar Bubble and Other Stories From the Asian Wall Street Journal." The second was "The Iconoclast," a collection of his humor columns for the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Lipsky is a member of the adjunct faculty of Columbia Journalism School and is a painter of portaits and landscapes. A graduate of Harvard College, he is married to the author Amity Shlaes. They have four children and reside at New York.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderfully insightful and engaging book on our Constitution by an author who is not a professor of law or even a lawyer, but rather a distinguished journalist. In this volume Seth Lipsky, a former editor of The Wall Street Journal and founder of the New York Sun, deciphers the Constitution clause by clause and renders it accessible, comprehensible and relevant to all of us who are not constitutional scholars. He does so with highly readable and often witty footnotes that relate each clause not only to historical events that shaped the Constitution, but also to the way the Constitution shapes our contemporary society and culture. It seems to me this book ought to be required reading at every level from high school civics classes to law school courses. And those required to read it will wind up enjoying it, as I did, not just learning from it. Full disclosure leads to me to say I am a former newspaper colleague and still friend of Seth Lipsky, but I have many other friends who have written bad books as well as good ones. This book is terrific.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think that this book is a must read for all US citizens. It lays out our Constitution, article by article, phrase by phrase, and includes the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments) and all the remaining amendments to the Constitution through today. On top of that, it highlights the key Supreme Court decisions tied to each article of the Constitution and Amendment, including Roe vs. Wade, Dred Scott, Miranda (very interesting one) and others. Through the reading of this book, I became enlightened to what an important document our Constitution actually is, and the importance of each clause. One clause that is currently getting a lot of play (due the health care debate) is the so-called "commerce clause" and it is clear that this clause is not very clear providing lots of opportunities for the Congress to pass laws that probably were not expected when this clause was written. In fact, throughout the reading of this book, the author highlights that many of the clauses were probably not written with the expectation that the Congress would write the law that they did, and in some instances, the law was overturned including one Amendment (the one that banned alcohol).
Again, I highly recommend this book to any citizen - and it is a must read for all citizens to understand our constitution especially in this period of time when we have a very active federal government who may trample on our rights.
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Format: Hardcover
When I was a lowly college freshman at the University of Oregon, my Poli Sci professor pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his pocket during one of his first lectures and ask the class, "You know why i carry this around?"

I thought to myself, "Because you teach a course called The American Constitution." Happily, I didn't raise my voice or my hand.

Professor Jim Klonski gripped his pocket-sized Constitution and told the class, "There won't be a day in your lives that somebody isn't going to try and tell you what this means. It's written in simple English. I carry it around so I can figure out what it says on my own."

I'm guessing Professor Klonoski is no longer with us. But the pocket Constitution I bought later that day in the early 90s is still with me.

Seth Lipsky's book is a fascinating examination of the ideas behind the simple, deliberate language of our Constitution. Professor Klonoski was right, every day we hear people telling us what's in the Constitution. From the Tea Parties to the talking heads on MSNBC, the range of interpretation expands seemingly without restraint. The Citizen's Constitution helps put a fence around the document's possible meanings by citing the historical records of the time.

The book is challenged only by it's structure. It was tough to read straight through. But it has proven to be invaluable as a desktop reference book, so when somebody tries to tell me what the Constitution means, I can tell them what I think it means and tell them what the people who wrote it thought it means.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased several copies of this book as Christmas presents and finally got around to reading my own copy. Its a fascinating read and Seth does a great job of weaving historical background and legal opinions together to provide a "flavor" of the background of each part of the Constitution. The author is a political conservative, but I found the book unbiased and quite factual.

There are a few typos, the most humorous appears on page 150, where Seth quotes the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 and notes, "...willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse...". As far as I know the US didn't have much of an Air Force in 1878, but Seth does go on later to describe how the Air Force was formed out of the Army, as the Constitution only provides for an Army and Navy. I tried to contact Seth (and the publisher) to point out the typos, but found no way to contact them.

In addition to being a full copy of the Constitution and its Amendments (worth having in your library) the background information is invaluable in helping to piece together how the founders were influenced by the events of their times. In finishing the book I was overwhelmed at how much time, effort and resources our Nation devoted/wasted to maintaining slavery - ostensibly as concessions to the South in order to keep the Union together. Mississippi didn't finally ratify the XIII Amendment (abolishing slavery) until 1995!!!

An interesting read and an excellent resource for those interested in the Constitution (which should be ALL Americans).
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