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The Second Amendment: A Biography Paperback – May 26, 2015
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“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)
About the Author
Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving the systems of democracy and justice. He was director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1999 and is the author of The Fight to Vote, My Fellow Americans, POTUS Speaks, and three other books. Waldman is a graduate of Columbia College and NYU School of Law. He comments widely in the media on law and policy.
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The sometimes tortured history since is covered through the very specific lens of the author, who allows his bias in favour of sensible gun control, and a judiciary that knows it's place, to run freely throughout. That colors, but doesn't distort the facts presented.
This is a worthwhile read for anyone curious to know what the second amendment actually says (it's one whole sentence!), and to understand how the society that founded it, and evolved around it has interpreted its meaning for over 2 centuries of changing times.
I recommend it.
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.
As other reviewers have noted, the book reads as if the author has an implicit bias in favor of greater gun control. That said, I have yet to find a book that does not not have an apparent bias one way or other. As such, I recommend that anyone interested the subject read several books with varying opinions.
Most recent customer reviews
Waldman wrote a good book. I recommend reading it. Theres great information in here. But it wasn't hard to poke holes in his agruments.Read more