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Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A day-by-day account of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia can't yield up much drama or fireworks, or even much sparkling talk, at least as recorded by a few participants, especially James Madison. But in this masterful account, Beeman (Patrick Henry), a noted historian of the late 18th century, does his best to dramatize the writing of the American Constitution. As the convention's hot summer weeks rolled on, tensions built, agreements were reached and compromises (especially, alas, about slavery) were made. Beeman gives each decision, each vote, the weight it deserves and, in brief sketches, brings the delegates alive. The result may not be an exciting story, but, after all, it concerns the writing of the world's longest-lived written national constitution. It's also a story freighted with world-historical significance—and one as well told here as can be imagined. This account is now the most authoritative, up-to-date treatment of the Constitutional Convention since Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia over 40 years ago. It's unlikely to be surpassed. Illus., map. (Mar. 17)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

The challenge of writing an account of the Constitutional Convention is that so many accounts already exist. “Do we need another narrative history of the Constitutional Convention of 1787?” asks the Washington Post. While Beeman’s book does not revolutionize the genre, it garners praise for examining the “the nuances and complexities of the compromises that the framers made” (New York Times) and for its detailed recreation of the Philadelphia debates. The most pointed complaint comes from Walter Isaacson in his otherwise positive New York Times review. He writes of Beeman’s hesitancy to include too much of his own interpretation in the book: “[S]ince he is in a far better position to make an assessment than we are, it would be nice to know what he believes.”
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065704
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065707
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on April 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If there are two things I would recommend reading this summer they are, in order, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution and then The Constitution of the United States. We take the Constitution for granted probably more than any other document that I know of.

In Plain, Honest Men, Richard Beeman gives the reader a glimpse of the process that produced one of the most beloved documents in the world. If beloved, it is equally misunderstood, misquoted, and misused. While Beeman's book won't prevent the various ills associated with the Constitution, and it won't make Constitutional scholars of us, it will provide an eye opening account of its creation and the personalities of the men who created it. I found Plain, Honest Men to be one of the best books I've read in the last couple of years. Yes, in places it is a page turner.

I also now understand some of the debates over issues like ownership of guns. As much as I am grateful for the existence of the Constitution, it is not a perfect document. Witness the current debates over the issue of gun control, or the separation of church and state. Can you have too much freedom of speech? All of these questions are debated now because of the contents of the Constitution we have. If those issues are confusing to us, the shocker is that they were confusing to the writers of the Constitution. There was very little agreement then on any of the issues. The Constitution we have is a creation of compromise. Understanding what Beeman conveys won't make these issues any clearer, but it will clarify the monumental event that the Constitution's creation was and is. Beeman also provides unique glimpses into the personalities like Robert Morris, George Washington, and James Madison and how they each helped to shape the document we have.

Americans should read Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. When you're finished, read the real document.

Peace to all.
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Format: Hardcover
Beeman is a highly respected scholar and expert on the Constitution, the Convention during which it was drafted, and the intellectual foundations of the document.

This popular, but also scholarly, treatment of the Constitutional Convention is thorough, balanced, and should be on the reading list of anyone who wants to really understand what went on during the three-month-long convention in Philadelphia. The proceedings of the Convention were not well documented (James Madison's amazing journal is the only comprehensive account; there is no other comparable source [least of all the official secretary's sketchy notes], and in many cases there are not corroborating reports that would enable verification of accounts. Hence, "what went on" is often open to interpretation, both as to the intent of the speaker/interest group and as to the precise content.

Given those persistent challenges, Beeman is scrupulously fair in fully describing both what is known, and in most instances to convey the factors that qualify or prevent firm conclusions as to meaning or intent. More than this, no historian should be expected to investigate and convey.

Others have given this book three stars, and have claimed that they find in it bias and apologies for "judicial activism." I find nothing of the sort, and such qualified approval simply reveals a tendency to seek "political correctness" (as defined by the reviewer) in the text.

Beeman's treatment is first-rate, reliable, even-handed, and will help readers to understand that ALL points of view were vigorously and fully shared during the convention. Any other characterization of this book is, in my opinion, based not on fact but on uninformed opinion.

I fully enjoyed this book as part of my reading program on the Constitution, and recommend it without reservation to the thoughtful inquirer.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There have been some excellent books written on the US Constitutional convention held in the summer of 1787. Three come to mind immediately: Catherine Drinker Bowen's MIRACLE AT PHILADELPHIA, 1966; Christopher Collier's DECISION IN PHILADELPHIA, 1986; and the more recent THE SUMMER OF 1787 by David O. Stewart, 2007. This book yields nothing to any of them in its insight into the entire process of creating the Constitution. It is a highly readable, step-by-step account of the many issues that arose from the very start of the convention and the often very drawn out efforts to resolve the complications. The author skillfully captures the personalities, concerns, and contributions of a great number of the delegates as they struggled to keep the convention on track and construct the Constitution.

As the author notes, the Articles of Confederation was little more than a "league" of sovereign states, who after the Revolutionary War had very little incentive to cooperate. But many of the leading citizens of these states were quite worried about the states' vulnerabilities to a variety of threats, both foreign and domestic, including their own state legislatures which were, in their view, too democratic. It was a real dilemma: how to create a stronger central government while respecting the sovereignty of the states.

James Madison of Virginia was by the far the leading advocate for a constitutional convention to resolve these weaknesses. In fact, he got a jump on all other attendees by proposing a new, powerful national government in his fifteen point Virginia Plan, which was the starting point for debate in the convention.
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