From Publishers Weekly
Since Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia
appeared in 1966, no work has challenged its classic status. Now, Stewart's work does. Briskly written, full of deft characterizations and drama, grounded firmly in the records of the Constitutional Convention and its members' letters, this is a splendid rendering of the document's creation. All the debates are here, as are all the convention's personalities. It detracts nothing from Stewart's lively story to point out that it's just that—a tale—and not an interpretation. Stewart, a constitutional lawyer in Washington, D.C., ignores the recent decades' penetrating scholarship about the Constitution's creation in favor of a fast-paced narrative of a long, hot summer's work. Only one choice mars the book. Stewart, like Bowen, wants us to see the four summer months as the only period when the Constitution was created. But as James Madison and others acknowledged soon afterward, the state ratifying conventions and the First Federal Congress, which added the Bill of Rights, also contributed to the Constitution as we know it. Stewart's excellent book will appeal to those looking for descriptive history at its best, not for a fresh take on the subject. B&w illus. (Apr.)
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This is, of course, a story that has been told before. But like most great stories, it is worth retelling, especially when told exceedingly well. Stewart, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, is a fine writer whose narrative unfolds like a well-structured novel. He begins with a description of the unsettled period just before the convention, as states quarreled with each other and a group of indebted farmers burned courthouses in Massachusetts. He describes the halting moves toward a Constitutional Convention that essentially were launched at a sparsely attended conference at George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. The narrative gathers steam as the convention begins in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia. Here Stewart artfully shows the roles played by the key players as they grappled with issues as varied as the rights of states and the future of slavery. In Stewart's view, the true genius of these founders was their understanding that free, popular government must be based upon compromise. General readers will find this work stimulating. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved