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America's Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By Hardcover – September 11, 2012
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In America’s Unwritten Constitution, Akhil Reed Amar aims high and has produced a masterful, readable book that constitutes one of the best, most creative treatments of the U.S. Constitution in decades. [The book] is filled with thought-provoking material and fun vignettes, suitable for a wide audience . Amar’s approach is refreshing . Amar makes a creative case that America’s written Constitution and its unwritten Constitution, since the beginning of the nation, have fit snugly together to form a single, more perfect union.”
Wall Street Journal
Akhil Reed Amar is a rarity: a progressive law professor who is unafraid of the text of the Constitution . In his ambitious new book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, he examines the paradox of needing to go beyond the text in order to faithfully follow the text . His is a holistic’ interpretation, one that rejects reading passages or clauses of the text in isolation from the document as a whole. He is masterfully creative in finding overarching themes that tie the disparate clauses together in novel and sometimes counterintuitive ways . A highly engaging and thought-provoking book.”
New York Times Book Review
In America’s Unwritten Constitution, Akhil Reed Amar, a commendably unorthodox and, in some ways, iconoclastic constitutional scholar at Yale Law School, bucks dominant opinions on both sides of the political spectrum. He contends that the written Constitution points to an unwritten one, and he argues that we can interpret with both intellectual honesty and analytical rigor.”
The Constitution has been described as both binding law and aspirational treatise . Akhil Amar, a Yale law professor and one of contemporary America’s most brilliant constitutional scholars, [suggests] in his latest, and best, book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, that the issue is not an either-or’ question . As a lawyer and constitutional rights activist, I cannot imagine how anybody who cares about the law, and justice, which are not always the same thing, could fail to place this important book at the very top of the must-read list. It’s a gem.”
America’s Unwritten Constitution is full of fascinating history, as well as novel and often persuasive analysis.... An ambitious book, and an impressive one. It tackles many of the most important and controversial issues in constitutional law. Amar’s arguments are uniformly informative and ingenious.... This book demonstrates with force and clarity that the relation between authoritative written texts of the past and conceptions and practices that have developed over time is a central concern not only of religious doctrine but also of secular law.”
The Federal Lawyer
[An] ambitious work.... Amar’s great contribution is to relate some of the great thematic developments of constitutional history to the words of the Constitution itself.... America’s Unwritten Constitution is not a treatise intended to guide legal practitioners or political scientists. Its aim is the more majestic one of articulating some of the grand underlying themes of American constitutional law and grounding them in the constitutional text. It aspires to be what Thucydides called a possession for all time,’ and it succeeds. Readers today, as well as those of future generations, will read it to their profit.”
Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School
Akhil Amar’s splendid new book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, combines an unmatched eye for detail with a unique capacity for overarching perspective and masterfully elegant synthesis. It is a wonderfully readable companion to Amar’s unparalleled earlier volume, America’s Constitution: A Biography. Together, these two works convey as little else can the majesty and sweep of America’s constitutional project.”
In America’s Unwritten Constitution, Professor Amar adds to his already masterful bibliography what will instantly become a classic examination of constitutional law. As the Constitution itself stood in need of a seminal biography, so too the vast and varied domain of our Nation’s constitutional law cried out for a guidebook. Professor Amar has now brilliantly provided both.”
Richard Brookhiser, author of James Madison
Akhil Amar brings the patience of a historian, the ardor of a lover, and (yes, sometimes) the panache of a conjurer to America’s unwritten Constitution. If you want to argue with him, you will have to summon all these qualities yourself. This is a serious and provocative book.”
Steven G. Calabresi, Class of 1940 Research Professor, Northwestern University School of Law; Co-Founder of the Federalist Society
This book is brilliant, creative, ambitious, comprehensive, imaginative, and thought-provoking. It is a must-read for anyone interested in Constitutional Law.”
Nadine Strossen, Former President, American Civil Liberties Union; Professor, New York Law School
This is an engrossing, epic work of enduring importancenot only a treasure trove for scholars of American law, history, and politics, but also an inspiring, empowering guidebook for activists. It compellingly demonstrates how to harness the Constitution’s full meaning in order to promote its thrilling vision of liberty and justice for all. No matter what your prior knowledge of this field, and no matter what your ideological perspective, this magnificent book will enhance your understanding and appreciation of our cherished Constitution. If I had to choose a single work to recommend to either my constitutional law students or my civil libertarian colleagues, this would be it.”
[Amar lays] out his argument in case-by-case details that are scholarly and legalistic but always readable . [An] ingenious mixture of history, legal anecdotes and hypothetical cases.”
Yale law professor Amar follows his highly regarded historical-textual analysis of America’s Constitution with a companion volume on the history, culture, and legal tenets of the unwritten constitution,’ the traditions and precedents that inform constitutional interpretation . Sophisticated readers will be rewarded for traveling with Amar as he covers a great deal of ground.”
Deeply researched and carefully argued, this book is nothing less than a sophisticated and comprehensive theory of constitutional jurisprudence that resists being construed along narrow political lines. Indispensable for law students and scholars, this will also be enjoyed by general readers who are passionate about constitutional law.”
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Top Customer Reviews
As a Yale Law student, the temptation to buy this book was overwhelming. And it hasn't disappointed: as one would expect from Akhil Amar, the writing is lucid; the arguments are powerful (even when one might not entirely agree with them); and the level of scholarly detail astounding. I have no doubt that this book will take its place in the canon of Constitutional scholarship, and every law student, attorney, and judge should put this at the top of their reading list.
Amar is known for holding a few positions outside the mainstream, and this book is no exception. Like in America's Constitution: A Biography, readers will occasionally find, particularly near the end of a chapter, some claims that may lead them to raise an eyebrow. But even these deserve a careful read, and from time to time, the reader will be convinced. Even when they are not, hearing Amar's intelligent arguments will remind them of the necessity of not blindly following the mainstream and making one's mind up for oneself, based on all the evidence and logic.
Some arguments in this book are of enormous importance. Amar's call to remember the Common Law and revolutionary experience that colors the words used in the concise text of the Constitution serves as an important reminder to modern judges to avoid the temptation to construe language in a vacuum; like all forms of communication, it is vital to recall that the meaning of language is a product of social and historical context.Read more ›
While reading this book I was mulling the thought of subtracting a star due to a tendency of the author to get a little too far down in the weeds. And then I came to Chapter 6, "Honoring the Icons: America's Symbolic Constitution." This chapter examines six texts -- no spoilers here but at least one of them will surprise you -- that illustrate not just the Constitution but what it means to be an American. Another part of this chapter -- on the three Supreme Court cases that deserve to be in the SCOTUS Hall of Shame (my words, not his) is similarly insightful. This chapter is worth being issued as a Kindle-single edition.
Akhil Reed Amar's writing throughout is lawyerly but elegant (check out the Look Inside feature to confirm). The book is written for a layperson, not a lawyer, with ample, clear definitions of important terms. Yes, Amar should be on the Supreme Court. Maybe he's been asked, but why would he give up a tenured gig at Yale to come down to Washington, even if a seat on the Supreme Court is tenured as well?
Buy both of these books and read them carefully. You will emerge with a greater understanding of the document and our society. And speaking of Biography, I've given my hard-copy version to a friend and replacing it with the Kindle version. Both books deserve re-reading.
The book is a very good book although it is a bit of a dry read at times. Legal students will fare very well with the book as will graduate students or students studying legal history. I definitely would not assign this to first or second year undergraduates as a standalone work. For a course on the Constitution it would be useful when used in conjunction with its twin. The concepts of the unwritten Constitution can be difficult to perceive, but they definitely exist. This is where students will have some difficulty in developing an understanding.
Politically, the book seems to work its way down the middle. Amar makes no major against the grain stances against the Supreme Court and its rulings such as Citizen’s United, etc. He does address exclusionary evidence and how some majority opinions seem to have been correct, but used the wrong precedents in establishing the legality of them. He offers no wild-eyed sermons on modern political thought, but instead works within the confines of the established legal system and thought. I found that to be refreshing.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very informative and helpful in learning about the Constitution.Published 1 month ago by J. G. Rowinsky
Another excellent description of an aspect of the U.S. Constitution by Prof. Amar.Published 3 months ago by MP Reader
I gave 5 stars to "American constitution: a biography" but this one is not as good. It starts off very well but the last few chapters are significantly less interesting and quite... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Marc
good..... lots of insight....maybe we could read things like this instead of watching TV....Published 11 months ago by marsha l crawford
I admire Professor Amar very much and purchased this book in relation to an on-line course he gave on the subject. He is wonderful to listen to and to read. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Rebecca Singh