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The Second Amendment: A Biography by [Waldman, Michael]
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The Second Amendment: A Biography Kindle Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 146 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Given the murkiness of the language of the Second Amendment and worries about armed citizens from the era of the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, from the settling of the western frontier to the gangsterism of the Prohibition era, the U.S. Supreme Court has generally ruled against the constitutional right to own a gun. In 2008 that all changed. Legal scholar Waldman examines the political forces behind that change, including the growing influence of the National Rifle Association and how gun rights play into the culture wars. Waldman offers historical perspective on the fierce debate to decide how much militia the nation should support and then goes on to trace the violent history of gun use in the U.S. and the increasingly contentious debate about crime and safety, all against the backdrop of debates about “originalism” as applied to the Constitution. This is a lively and engaging exploration of the radically different perspectives of the Founding Fathers, worried about the nation’s ability to protect itself yet fearful of a powerful military, and contemporary politicians fretting over culture wars and the role of government and the rights of individuals. --Vanessa Bush


“Waldman relates this tale in clear, unvarnished prose and it should now be considered the best narrative of its subject.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Waldman offers historical perspective on the fierce debate…A lively and engaging exploration.” (Booklist)

“Thoughtful, accessible...useful to anyone arguing either side of this endlessly controversial issue.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“The ongoing debate about the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms continues to set off multiple explosions in the blogosphere. Waldman's new book will not make the most zealous NRA advocates happy, but for anyone who wants his or her history of the Second Amendment straight-up, this is the most comprehensive, accessible, and compelling version of the story in print.” (Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers )

“From the founding of the Republic to the Newtown massacre of elementary school children, and beyond, Michael Waldman vividly portrays the evolution of a nation's passionate debate over the right to keep and bear arms. Activist, conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court may have thought they ended that debate in 2008, but with rich detail and crisp narrative, Waldman shows how it continues to reverberate across the landscape with important lessons for all Americans.” (Marcia Coyle, author of The Roberts Court )

“Through most of American history, the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to be a citizen-soldier, not an individual vigilante. With wit and erudition, Michael Waldman tells the story of how the Amendment’s meaning was turned upside-down and inside-out.” (David Frum, author of The Right Man: An Inside Account of the Bush White House )

“Michael Waldman gives us the turbulent life story of the Second Amendment. If one clause of the Constitution better deserved a quiet retirement, it is our right to keep and bear arms, a vestige of the Founding Fathers' concern with the role of the militia in a republican society. Yet today the Second Amendment has become one of the feistiest, most disputed clauses of the Constitution, and Waldman vividly explains why this obscure, minor provision has become so controversial.” (Jack Rakove, author of Original Meanings )

“Partisan pseudo-histories of gun regulation and the Second Amendment abound. Michael Waldman's excellent book slices through the propaganda with candor as well as scholarship. It advances an authentic and clarifying history that will surprise and enlighten citizens on all sides of the issue. Here is a smart and cogent history that performs a large public service.” (Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy )

“Anyone interested in the hot button issue of guns and their place in our society will find this book a helpful tool for ongoing discussion.” (Decatur Daily (Alabama))

The Second Amendment is a smart history of guns and the US . . . his calm tone and habit of taking the long view offers a refreshing tonic in this most loaded of debates.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Waldman’s detractors would do well to read the book, which focuses less on taking a position on gun control and more on explaining what the Founding Fathers intended when they approved the amendment and how subsequent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere have transformed that intent. . . . Seeing the subject discussed and dissected in untypically calm, scholarly tones, then, is a refreshing development.” (Miami Herald)

“Rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book.” (New York Times)

“Compelling” (Washington Post)

“An insightful look at both the historical foundation of the Second Amendment . . . a welcome re-injection of historical context into the present debate over the rightful role of guns in American culture.” (Chicago Tribune)

“A welcome addition to the ongoing debate over gun rights and gun control in America.” (The Buffalo News)

“Terrific” (Nicholas Kristoff New York Times)

Product Details

  • File Size: 4091 KB
  • Print Length: 273 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1476747458
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (May 20, 2014)
  • Publication Date: May 20, 2014
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,334 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Unlike some of these reviews, I actually read this book. This book consists of two sections. In the first section, Waldman discusses the context around the writing of the constitution, including the need for state militias to have the ability to rise up against a potential tyrannical federal government. He scans through written sources to discern the nuances of eighteenth and early nineteenth century language in attempts to discover the true meaning of the second amendment. The second half of the book fast-forwards to recent court decisions and their effects on the interpretation of current gun laws. It largely discusses decisions and personalities of the Supreme Court, often focusing on Scalia's concept of Originalism, which is the interpretation of the constitution as if one was a framer.

I found the first section quite enlightening concerning the worries of early Americans, and seeing just how different the burgeoning country's attitude was hundreds of years ago. The writing uses many primary sources, often quoting passages in the text. I find texts that do this to be much more credible than those who rely on historical platitudes. However, I found it aggravating to constantly switch from quote to quote without much interjection from Waldman in between. I believe the author does well in trying to be objective as possible (again, using many primary sources). I was less thrilled about the second half of the book, although mostly because anyone who reads the news will already know the general outline. However, it does discuss how the decisions of the Supreme Court has far-reaching impacts. The focus on Scalia seems well deserved, as if what the author says is true, then his concept of Originalism is largely responsible for the 2008 and subsequent decisions.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Michael Waldman has written an invaluable perspective on the history, meaning and intent of the Second Amendment; on the two centuries of judicial understanding of its essential militia basis; and on the recent and powerful social movement driven by conservative academics, a few libertarian lawyers, and the NRA to rewrite the Second Amendment in the image of a small but vocal minority of Americans who cling to their guns as tightly as they cling to their belief that government is the enemy of the people. He also delves a bit into the social ramifications and social costs of America's long-standing tradition of both individualism and gun ownership.

The book contains a great deal of valuable history, information and insight, but falls a bit short in several ways. First, the syntax is clunky and truncated, making it feel that he is writing down to the reader. More importantly, he gets a small number of historical facts wrong, such as the state ratification vote tallies; and he exhibits a too-common ignorance about firearms that will surely become fodder for damning criticism from gun rights apologists.

But, as a treatise that should clear up the recent mythology about the Second Amendment and the newly discovered individual right to self-defense in the home, Waldman's most important lines might be:

"There is not a single word about an individual right to own a gun for self-defense in the notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor with scattered exceptions in the records of the ratification debates in the states. Nor on the floor of the US House of Representatives as it marked up the Second Amendment.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a must read - Waldman highlights the change in our interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. His expert grasp of the laws and of the historical context makes reading and comprehending the complexity of the issue easy for the layperson. It was very informative - didn't know the NRA edited the 2nd Amendment to suit their purposes.
The most often misunderstood part of the 2nd Amendment, as short as it is, is the meaning of "well-regulated militia." The place to start in understanding what they meant by that, is to be found in the 1st and 2nd Articles of the Constitution itself. Art I Sect 8 gives Congress the power:
"To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
Art II Sect 2 says that
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States
In other words, the Militias were considered part of the police powers of the Government, not an antidote to it. The boneheads who think that the Militias were established so that a minority can resort to violence when they don't like the results of an election, are the real tyrants here.
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