The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution (Stonesong Press Books)
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"I have never before seen so clear an explanation of what's in the Constitution and why. Monk has provided a service to the nation that should earn her a Presidential Medal of Freedom."―Nat Hentoff, Pulitzer Prize finalist and Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
"A book for 'We the People' of all ages--wonderfully simple but never simplistic, brimming with profound and provocative ideas."―Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University
"Linda Monk takes us on a lively and learned exploration of the document that underlies not only how we Americans govern ourselves but how we make sense of the world. Anyone reading The Words We Live By will finish it with a greater understanding of the Constitution and a new respect for how it has secured freedom and self-government for the last two centuries."―Steve Chapman, syndicated columnist, Chicago Tribune
"[Linda Monk] captures just the right blend of history and current events to help us understand why the Constitution is America's cornerstone of freedom."―Charles Overby, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper editor and Chairman of the Overby Center of Southern Journalism and Politics
"When I covered federal courts in Washington at the foot of Capitol Hill, I read The Words We Live By all the time. When I stopped covering the courts, I still read it all the time. Smart, informed, witty--just the way everyone wants to sound when discussing the Constitution."―Neely Tucker, staff writer, Washington Post
"The U.S. Constitution gets a comprehensive overview in this engaging blend of history and commentary. Monk . . . traces the history and consequences of each part of this vital document in a line-by-line analysis of the original seven articles and the 27 amendments. She also gives even-handed but lively accounts of the debates over such Constitutional controversies as the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, church-state separation, and capital punishment."―Citation for Chief of Staff of the Air Force 2012 Reading List
"This volume ought to be required reading for every American young and old."―Governor William Winter, Chairman Emeritus of the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
"For a fine guide to the full context of today's Constitution, read The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by the scholar Linda R. Monk, which labors to provide inclusive context, including materials on "outsiders" to the Constitution such as Native American people."―The Atlantic
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Update: I also decided to give copies to the history and law teachers at my daughter's high school - it's a great teacher's resource.
BTW, did not have any ordering problems -- that issue seems to be resolved as long as you order the one with the black circle in the top right corner, which is actually the new edition, not 2004 as listed on the site.
Monk recognises the importance of the Constitution, and its unique place in history, but does not give it false priority by forgetting its historic underpinnings. The founders who gathered in convention in 1787 brought their backgrounds and training with them, as well as a sense of self-government and an awareness of what might work and not work in the newly formed nation, gained from 150 years of essentially self-rule as colonies.
The framers of the Constitution were not under the illusion that they were creating a perfect document, as Monk states, quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes - `it is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.' The preamble of the Constitution, perhaps the best know part, strives to form `a more perfect union', not a perfect one.
Monk draws information from the Federalist papers, other documents contemporary with the Constitution, and artwork and illustrations to help the text come alive. For each section, be they preamble, article, or amendment, Monk first sets forth the text, and then provides a passage-by-passage commentary. Often this refers to court cases, government structures and procedures, and significant events that helped to shape the Constitution, even as it has worked to shape American society. There are side notes with definitions for key words and terms, quotable quotes from historians as well as historical figures, and text boxes separate from the main text body to draw particular emphasis on points of greater interest in contemporary issues (George Will on the question of term limits for Congress; Benjamin Franklin on property qualifications for voting; etc.).
Monk ends as she began, writing of the Constitution as words to live by in the future. She characterises the ongoing debate as one between different ideas of freedom - some see freedom as freedom from something (government intrusion and more), whereas others see freedom as freedom to achieve something. How this will ultimately be played out on a constitutional level is speculation, as is the conjecture on what may become future amendments to the Constitution.
Overall, this was a fun book to read, informative and interesting. Monk draws text box and side-bar quotations and examples from across the political spectrum and across American history, to give a reasonable balance toward the issues politically. This is useful particularly for high school and undergraduate civics and political science classes, as well as American history classes. It is also good for general readers, and has a layout that shows an awareness of the importance of different colours, images, typefaces and more for keeping visual interest in addition to interest in content.
This will help one live by the words more fully.