Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
The Second Amendment: A Biography Hardcover – May 20, 2014
Curated Collections of History Books
Browse through handpicked collections of rare, vintage and antiquarian history books. Learn more on AbeBooks.com.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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)
Browse award-winning titles. See more
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
If you look at the debates of the time that this amendment was being developed and the politics of its approval, there is uncertainty. Some major figures expressly associated it with a militia--assuming, to some, that such bodies would meet regularly and practice their art. Others thought that it included hunting. And so on. The point: This amendment was born in circumstances where there were questions. The statement on militia cannot easily be avoided--but the actors debating the meaning were not of one mind. So, the amendment was founded in something of a fog. You don't have to take the author's word--read the discussion at the time. I have looked at some of that documentation (years ago and without reference to this book) and can say that only a fool would say that the meaning of this amendment is clear.
The book spends most of its time looking at the conflict over the meaning of the amendment and the process by which this passage in the Constitution went from little discussion to the Supreme Court rejecting an individual right to forearms (including non-liberal Chief Justice Warren Burger suggesting that an individual right to firearms was ludicrous). And that is the key for this volume, the evolving understanding of the Second Amendment. Regardless of the author's perspective, he does a fine job in outlining that evolution (albeit he has a critical take on that).
In the end--whatever one's views on the subject--the book provides an analysis of the evolution of a Constitutional doctrine that was murky at its inception.
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. The author drifts away from the topic a bit when discussing other Supreme Court decisions, which I found unnecessary and unrelated to the second amendment, although I understand that it was to demonstrate through example the relative conservative nature of the court. This is the only place in which I thought the author might have become biased.
It is really a shame that so many people rate and review this book so poorly simply because they disagree with its conclusions. Those who disagree shouldn't be automatically cast aside. While this book concludes that the second amendment does not allow for unfettered gun access (actually quite the opposite), I found that the reliance on primary sources and explanations of common errors of thinking limits the bias that the author might have in this text. I'm sure some will disagree with me, but I suppose that is the nature of democracy (or at least Amazon reviews!).