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The House: The History of the House of Representatives Paperback – October 2, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. National Book Award winner Remini (Andrew Jackson) offers the definitive history of "the People's House." Envisioned as the more democratic half of America's bicameral legislature, the House first convened on April 1, 1789. As Remini shows, in the early decades, Henry Clay's leadership was crucial—his willingness to go head-to-head with the Monroe administration helped establish the House's power and autonomy. During the Civil War, the House provided crucial support for the Union by passing legislation to print greenbacks and create a military draft. Remini treats the 16 black congressmen who served during Reconstruction in t a few, general paragraphs; this particular era in the institution's history deserves more attention. Turning to the 20th century, Remini examines the House's response to the Great Depression, the Cold War, civil rights, Vietnam and Watergate. His concluding chapter addresses the "Conservative Revolution" of the 1980s and '90s. Here Newt Gingrich gets the spotlight: he was determined to give the House a more prominent position in the legislative process, but also helped usher in "an era of incivility and personal attack and partisanship" that, says Remini, continues today. Written at the instruction of Congress,, this tome is highly readable though encyclopedic. B&w photos. (May 1)
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

The unrivaled scholar of the Jacksonian era of American history, Remini is also a skillful popular historian, as evident in accessibly vibrant histories such as The Battle of New Orleans (1999). The latter spirit infuses this chronicle of the U.S. House of Representatives. It bears no trace of dreary institutional history but, rather, emphasizes the most prominent figures among the 10,000 people who have been its members. Another successful strategy Remini adopts is his manner of illustrating how the House operates. Rather than explain parliamentary procedure, he dramatizes it in episodes such as the debate over the Wilmot Proviso. In the aggregate, Remini's narratives make memorable how the pendulum of the House's powers has swung, both within its committees and the office of speaker, and in its external power struggle with the presidency and the Senate. Published under the aegis of the House itself, Remini's work is nonpartisan, civic-minded, and deserving of every library's consideration. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061341118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061341113
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By tmtodd on March 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a disappointing book by an accomplished historian which perhaps reflects its origin as a book sponsored by or written for the House and Congress. On the plus side, it is a well-written, interesting and easy to read narrative history. But substantively it is pretty thin and derivative on what the title announces as its main subject, the history of the U.S. House.

Most of the book is given to what one might call external House affairs, positioning the House as a participant in the general history of the country, particularly its political history. About half delivers a textbook version of U.S. political history from the House viewpoint (campaigns, the sequence of presidents, the sequence of congressional party control, changing national political issues, key legislative acts, and the like). About another quarter is given to bits of history of Washington, D.C. and its government buildings, particularly, of course, the Capitol and congressional buildings.

This leaves about one-quarter, maybe a third, for the history of the House itself as an institution of government. And much of this fraction is devoted to entertaining re-tellings of notable stories - famous members, famous feuds, famous incidents, etc. - that serve to illustrate but throw little light on the cultural past of the House.

Not much space is left, then, for what one would expect the book mainly to be about: a history of the institution of the U.S. House, its constitutional origins and development, the evolution of its internal organization and institutional structures, its changing internal culture and affairs, the history of its committees and their practices, changing legislative procedures, relations with the Senate and the courts, expenditures, budget practices, etc.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on June 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A few months ago, I read The Most Exclusive Club, Lewis Gould's history of the modern U.S. Senate. When I saw that a book about the House of Representatives was coming out, I knew that it would be a good companion piece to Gould's book. Then I saw it was by Robert Remini, the fabulous biographer of Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster and knew that this book was a must-read. And though Remini has expanded beyond the Jacksonian era he has specialized in, he has still written a great book.

Naturally enough, Remini starts at the beginning of the House in 1789. In the early going, the institution was trying to define itself and its role in the government. With travel to the capital so difficult (first in New York, then Philadelphia and finally Washington), it wasn't surprising that most Congressmen served only a couple terms. Although there were big names in the first Congresses (such as James Madison), few stood out for their actual work in the institution. That would come with the next generation in the early 1800s: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun would thrust the House into greater prominence. Clay in particular is something of a star, transforming the Speakership into a position of power.

In the tug of war between Congress and the Presidency, first one side would have the advantage, then the other, but in the antebellum era, the legislative branch probably had the edge overall. Unfortunately, as regional differences grew greater, the level of debate got lower and sometimes even descended into violence. Nonetheless, Remini has even less good to say about the post-Civil War House, which was ineffective and filled with corruption.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By MarkK VINE VOICE on May 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Long regarded as "the people's House," the House of Representatives has enjoyed a special position in American history. Devised as the most democratic of the institutions outlined in the Constitution, it has defined innumerable aspects of the country's development, as well as witnessing the struggles over the key issues in our nation's past. In chronicling over two centuries of its existence, the distinguished historian Robert Remini has undertaken no small challenge - to recount the people and events of a part of government often overshadowed by more distinguished bodies and positions withing our governing system.

After a brief history of legislative assemblies in America from colonial times to the drafting of the Constitution, Remini begins his narrative with the first session of the House in March 1789. He recounts its early decades as it established the procedures by which it operated while debating many of the key issues of the times. This is one of the stronger parts of the book, perhaps in no small part because it addresses the era the author has spent the bulk of his academic career studying. Here he deftly weaves his account of events in the House with national developments, showing how the House responded to events and how they, in turn, shaped them. He is particularly good in his coverage of Henry Clay, whom Remini considers to have been perhaps the greatest speaker ever - and about whom he wrote an excellent biography over a decade ago. Such familiarity serves him well here.

Remini's account weakens as he approaches the twentieth century, however. The balance between his coverage of the House and that of broader historical events breaks down, as he often recounts the broader history while slighting his main subject.
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