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Comment: The item is fairly worn but continues to work perfectly. Signs of wear can include aesthetic issues such as scratches, dents, and worn corners. All pages and the cover are intact, but the dust cover may be missing. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting, but the text is not obscured or unreadable.
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How Congress Works and Why You Should Care Paperback – February 26, 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Remember that "how a bill becomes law" charts in your high school civics class? It doesn't begin to describe the "messy" process that really operates in Congress, according to Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana who was respected on both sides of the aisle. He offers a strong defense of the institution he served from 1965 to 1999. This basic primer details the history of Congress, its importance and some of the critical actions it has taken—from the Tariff Act of 1790, which established duties on imported goods, to landmark laws of the 1960s, such as the Voting Rights Act and the bills that established Medicare and Medicaid. Hamilton also describes the "complicated and untidy" process by which Congress really works and why we "need more people who know how to practice the art of politics." Congress, he argues, acts "as the people's voice against unchecked power[;] it is the guarantor of liberty." The author is not uncritical of Congress, offering several suggestions as to how that body could improve itself. But here and elsewhere in the book, his suggestions and arguments fail to scratch much below the surface. It's hard to disagree with the statements that congressional discourse should be more civil and that citizens should be more active in politics, but Hamilton fails to address the causes of these and other problems. Still, in a cynical age, and a time of increasing presidential authority, it's encouraging to see a true, reasonable believer call for recognizing Congress as a necessary pillar of American democracy. Parents should send this primer off with their kids to college.
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.


"A passionate and eloquent defense of the essential role Congress plays in the American constitutional system and a reasoned call for citizens to engage more actively in their representative democracy. Like Hamilton himself, this volume is scrupulously honest, fair-minded, and accessible to a wide audience." ―Thomas Mann, W. Averell Harriman Senior Fellow in American Governance, The Brookings Institution

"Lee Hamilton's new book... should be required reading for any American contemplating writing a ‘Letter to the Editor’ or calling into (or hosting) a radio talk show, or for that matter, stepping into a voting booth. It is an owner’s manual for citizens interested in their Congress." ―Charlie Cook, Editor and Publisher, The Cook Political Report

"Lee Hamilton’s book not only describes the Madisonian vision of what Congress is supposed to be and assesses how it measures up to that vision today, it also serves the same function of educating and edifying the American public that the Federalist papers did.... Every student of Congress, and every American, can benefit from this book." ―Norman J. Ornstein, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

"Americans cannot be faulted for having a deeply jaundiced view of their Congress, says Hamilton (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars); he ought to know, because he served as a Representative for Indiana from 1965 to 1999. But he argues that people can and should fix it rather than give up on it completely." ―SciTech Book News, February 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press; 1.2.2004 edition (February 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253216958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253216953
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #366,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is especially valuable because the author's insights on Congress come from his long legislative career. It is a substantive view of the legislative branch from the inside.

Hamilton provides a good sense of the usually messy process involved in a bill becoming law, explaining how powerful members can often circumvent the normal process, and sometimes even avoid bringing a bill into committee.

After reading this book, I came away with a better operational sense of politics---the compromise, listening, and coalition building that are essential in our democracy. I also learned more about how power affects the system---in the House, for example, the party in the majority can set the rules for debate, and thus controls a lot of the legislative process. Power shifts as well---over the years, speakers have become less powerful, committee heads more so. Some members can command more national attention than others, which adds weight to whatever issue or initiative they are pushing.

But more significant than the how is the why. Hamilton makes a great case for the average citizen getting civically involved, and he explains the positive impact government can have in our lives. He doesn't mince words in acknowledging government's faults. But he also explains that some common criticisms people have of government---that politicians compromise too much, and that the process is too slow---are actually misplaced because these types of things are part of the democratic process itself. Autocracies tend to work quickly. Democracies are more complicated, often more messy, but ultimately more represenative.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very good overview of how the legislative branch of the federal government works. After 34 years in the House of Representatives, the author is a certified expert on his subject and he treats it objectively in a nonpartisan manner. The book opens with a spirited and convincing defense of the institution, continues with a critical look at what improvements can be made, and concludes with an impassioned plea for increased civic participation.

From the first page of the book, Hamilton tackles the public's "far less grand view of Congress" and the lack of trust they have in the institution. He systematically addresses each of the public's main concerns, and although it is a bit repetitive and his defense of certain topics (most specifically "pork" spending) is not convincing, he is overall successful in his arguments. Hamilton hammers home the importance of Congress's role in balancing the power of the three branches of the federal government and lists many of its major accomplishments (ie the federal highway system and civil rights legislation). A representative democracy requires debate and compromise, which can appear to be slow and messy to an outsider, but is necessary to build consenus and ensure that no one branch of government becomes to powerful.

The author does not blindly support institution of Congress and points out several key areas of reform. He calls upon members of Congress to be more civil (something that declined significantly during his tenure), more willing to tackle the tough issues, and have a more strategic, longer term mindset with an eye towards the impact on the greater public good. Hamilton acknowledges that money has too much influence on campaigning and further ethical reforms are still needed.
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Format: Paperback
The other two reviews are much more well-written than I can type, but still wanted to add a positive review since I think it is a terrific book. I was very cynical of Congress before reading this book. Hamilton really gives an excellent overview of the responsibilities of the members and how they come to make decisions about legislation and pass it through. Though he describes how it is not perfect, it is still works a whole lot better than I gave it credit for. I am really much more optimistic that there are people in there that care and that my voice can make a difference. I really never took time before to consider all of the reforms that are in place to keep members of Congress honest and how it is really in their best interest to be honest. The book was so easy to read and at a length that I could actually finish, but still caused me to reconsider many things. The book was very much written for the average person.
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Like another reviewer I came away with a far better understanding of what Congress does and why it can be so difficult. Hamilton doesn't pull any punches in addressing - and to a certain extent agreeing with - many of the standard criticisms but he highlights why it can be changed and how it needs to be changed. This is a very well written, balanced, view from trenches that left me feeling quite optimistic about an institution that, although far from perfect, is still within the grasp of the average person to change, or at least influence.

It's light on technical detail (eg. passage of a bill) and partisan political viewpoints, fortunately, and is sprinkled with interesting anecdotes. The writing style is way more engaging than I would have expected about a book of this nature and it's slim enough that it gets to the point without unnecessary padding. Highly recommended.
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