Most helpful positive review
214 of 228 people found the following review helpful
Comprehensive, Reliable, Essential
on March 30, 2006
I love this book. It taught me about the Constitution and its simple, exalted ideas. If you read this book you will understand America's "charter of freedom" better than you would from taking a college course in political science. (At least, that's what happened to me.)
I wouldn't say The Making of America is "bipartisan." It fully lauds the Constitution as having a "success formula" for prosperity and freedom that is unique and superior to any other political system in the world. If you want a book that regards America's Constitution as neither better nor worse than other government systems, then this is not the book for you.
The Making of America is well organized. Here is a synopsis of the contents: It begins with interesting biographical information on " the man who discovered America's Freedom Formula" - Thomas Jefferson. The next chapter explores various governments - real governments that existed, such as what the Anglo-Saxons, Israelites, and French (during the times of Napoleon) had, contrasting their advantages and weaknesses. All of these were assessed by the Founders (especially Jefferson), so the author is showing what influenced the Founders' thinking about governments. It's amazing. The third chapter describes some of the Revolutionary War battles, and the Colonial leaders, and how the existing government - the Articles of Confederation - was severely deficient and in need of replacement, which chapter 4 explores further. Chapter 5 is all about the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, and 7 explains, very simply, the balance of powers in government and all that complex stuff about three branches and division of powers and the Great Compromise and all that.
Chapter 8 is one of my favorite parts; it explains capitalism - not just what it is, but exactly why it works: It allows maximum freedom for people to invent, try, sell, buy, prosper, fail. It gives real examples of what happened when the government intervened in the economy, such as with price controls, and discusses whether big business is bad or good. Chapter 9 recounts the ratification of the Constitution and the reaction of the states and people, and talks about the Federalist Papers. It then examines the Preamble, its wording and principles.
Now we get to the heart of the book. From here until the conclusion, each chapter explores, in depth, every article and section of the Constitution - almost sentence by sentence. The author chose a very interesting way to do this - instead of boringly stating why this or that clause was included, he identifies the principle that the section allows. So after giving a sentence straight from the Constitution, he writes: "This provision gives the American people the RIGHT to ..." and says what it lets us do. Here's an example. On page 500, you read the text from Article I.10.1, "No state shall grant any title of nobility." The author says, "This further secures the RIGHT of the American people not to have [government] creating an aristocracy of privileged citizens." And then interesting history is given, describing how before the Constitution granted this right, King George III and the House of Lords were corrupt and arrogant and elitist because they were given special titles and considered above the common people, and so the American Founders wanted to forbid this practice to protect the people. Every sentence almost, of the Constitution is explained in this way. Throughout The Making of America, plenty of history is provided, in an easy-to-understand way, to help the reader see what life was like before the Constitution; also, the entire book is replete with quotations from the Founding Fathers - this is so that the reader knows exactly what the Founders intended, because much of the Constitution is misinterpreted now. Also, the amendments are studied in the same format as the Constitution, analyzing them in their historical contexts. After you read this book, you'll feel smart because your mind will be buzzing with philosophy, history, and political science. I can't tell you how much I've learned from this book. It has increased my understanding, and therefore, my love, for America's Founders and Constitution.
Also, there is a handy subject index, a copy of the Constitution's text, brief description and pictures of each of the Convention delegates, and a good introduction and conclusion.
My only complaint about this book is that there isn't a new edition; it seems it was written in the mid 80s. Don't worry, though - the information isn't outdated - because it only deals with timeless principles; but still, it would be nice if there were a newer edition; it has a rather plain cover - pale yellow with grey and red letters - and, for some reason, the print is huge, like it's for the visually-impaired or something. But that doesn't really matter; the text itself is fascinating.
You can use this great book as a reference tool - like if you hear some legislation is passing in the House and you want to know if it's really Constitutional or not - or you can read it cover-to-cover, as I did; either way, get this book, if you want to understand the Constitution and America's "freedom formula."