R. B. Bernstein was born in Flushing, New York, on 24 May 1956, the oldest son of Fred Bernstein and Marilyn [Berman] Bernstein. He was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from Stuyvesant High School in 1973. He attended Amherst College, where he was graduated in 1977 with a B.A. magna cum laude in American Studies. While at Amherst, he was a research assistant to Henry Steele Commager. Bernstein was graduated from the Harvard Law School with a J.D. in November 1980.
After three years practicing law, he returned to the study of history, doing graduate work at New York University. From 1983 to the present he has been a member of the New York University Legal History Colloquium, and he has been active in the writing of legal and constitutional history and in activities to promote the historical profession.
From 1984 to 1987 he was research curator for the Constitution Bicentennial Project of The New York Public Library, working with Kym S. Rice under the supervision of Richard B. Morris, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia University. Among the products of this project was Bernstein's first book, _Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution_ (Harvard University Press, 1987). From 1987 to 1990 Bernstein was historian on the staff of the New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and from 1989 to 1990 he was research director of the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution.
In the spring of 1988 Bernstein was a visiting part-time lecturer in history at the Newark, New Jersey campus of Rutgers University. In 1991, he became an adjunct assistant professor of law at New York Law School, where he has taught courses on American legal history and law and literature ever since. In 2007 he was named Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law. In 1997-1998 he also was the Daniel M. Lyons Visiting Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.
Bernstein's later books include _Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It?_ (Times Books/Random House, 1993; Univ. Press of Kansas, 1995), a history of the U.S. Constitution's amending process and the successful and unsuccessful attempts to amend the Constitution from 1789 through the early 1990s; _Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America_, coedited with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz; and _Thomas Jefferson_ (Oxford University Press, 2003). Gordon S. Wood's review of Bernstein's Thomas Jefferson in The New York Times Book Review called the book "the best short biography of Jefferson ever written."
Bernstein has just published _The Founding Fathers Reconsidered_ (Oxford University Press, 2009). His books-in-progress include a concise life of John Adams modeled on his 2003 biography of Thomas Jefferson; a study of the First Congress as an experiment in government; and an examination of the place of scientific ideas and technological developments in American constitutional history.
From 1997 to 2004 Bernstein was co-editor of book reviews for H-LAW, the listserv co-sponsored by H-NET (Humanities and Social Sciences Network On-Line) and the American Society for Legal HIstory. He is also a member of H-LAW's editorial board. For three years he served on the editorial board of Law and Social Inquiry, the journal of the American Bar Foundation. In 2004 he was elected to the board of directors of the American Society for Legal History for a three-year term.
In 1993, Bernstein changed his byline from Richard B. Bernstein to R. B. Bernstein to avoid confusion with the several other Richard Bernsteins active in journalism and law.
In November 2002, in addition to his scholarly activities, Bernstein became director of online operations at Heights Books, Inc., a used-bookstore in Brooklyn.
List of Books
Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution (with Kym S. Rice) (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).
Defending the Constitution (editor) (Mount Vernon, N.Y.: A. Colish, 1987).
Into the Third Century: The Congress (New York: Walker, 1989).
Into the Third Century: The Presidency (New York: Walker, 1989).
Into the Third Century: The Supreme Court (New York: Walker, 1989).
Well Begun: Chronicles of the Early National Period ((co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).
Contexts of the Bill of Rights (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).
Where the Experiment Began: New York City and the Two Hundredth Anniversary of George Washington's Inauguration: Final Report of the New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution (New York: New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).
New York and the Union (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).
New York and the Bicentennial (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, New York: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).
Roots of the Republic: American Founding Documents Interpreted (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter and Donald S. Lutz) (Madison, WI: Madison House for the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).
Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It? (New York: Times Books/Random House, 1993; paperback, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995).
Of the People, By the People, For the People: The Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court in American History (New York: Wings Books, 1993) (reprint in one volume with updates and expansions of Into the Third Century series first issued in 1989).
Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America (co-editor, with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz) (New York and San Marino, CA: New York University School of Law and Henry E. Huntington Library, 1997).
The Constitution of the United States of America, with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2002).
The Wisdom of John and Abigail Adams (editor/introduction) (New York: Metro Books, 2002; reprint, New York: Fall River Press, 2008).
Thomas Jefferson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Thomas Jefferson: The Revolution of Ideas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) (Oxford Portraits series)
The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).