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on January 5, 2013
Like another reviewer here, I bought this Kindle book on the strength of Akhil Reed Amar's other book, "America's Constitution: A Biography." Er, no problem with the use of "America" in either of these titles. These two books really should be read sequentially, starting with Biography. In Biography, Reed goes word for word through the "terse text." In Unwritten, he shows how the various Constitutions -- implicit, lived, symbolic, etc. -- flesh out and strengthen the words of the document itself.

While reading this book I was mulling the thought of subtracting a star due to a tendency of the author to get a little too far down in the weeds. And then I came to Chapter 6, "Honoring the Icons: America's Symbolic Constitution." This chapter examines six texts -- no spoilers here but at least one of them will surprise you -- that illustrate not just the Constitution but what it means to be an American. Another part of this chapter -- on the three Supreme Court cases that deserve to be in the SCOTUS Hall of Shame (my words, not his) is similarly insightful. This chapter is worth being issued as a Kindle-single edition.

Akhil Reed Amar's writing throughout is lawyerly but elegant (check out the Look Inside feature to confirm). The book is written for a layperson, not a lawyer, with ample, clear definitions of important terms. Yes, Amar should be on the Supreme Court. Maybe he's been asked, but why would he give up a tenured gig at Yale to come down to Washington, even if a seat on the Supreme Court is tenured as well?

Buy both of these books and read them carefully. You will emerge with a greater understanding of the document and our society. And speaking of Biography, I've given my hard-copy version to a friend and replacing it with the Kindle version. Both books deserve re-reading.
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on February 17, 2015
In his follow up to America’s Constitution: A Biography, Professor Amar explores the vague parts of the Constitution and how it has worked in our history. As we know from our history, the Constitution itself is a framework for the government to work in. Much of what constitutes our working system of government was devised after the ratification of the Constitution and is at times like Professor Amar states, unwritten. He also used this book as the foundation text for a course on the Coursera MOOC platform in which he gave lectures on each chapter. The course and the book worked well together in presenting a view of America’s legal system which we often do not understand.

The book is a very good book although it is a bit of a dry read at times. Legal students will fare very well with the book as will graduate students or students studying legal history. I definitely would not assign this to first or second year undergraduates as a standalone work. For a course on the Constitution it would be useful when used in conjunction with its twin. The concepts of the unwritten Constitution can be difficult to perceive, but they definitely exist. This is where students will have some difficulty in developing an understanding.

Politically, the book seems to work its way down the middle. Amar makes no major against the grain stances against the Supreme Court and its rulings such as Citizen’s United, etc. He does address exclusionary evidence and how some majority opinions seem to have been correct, but used the wrong precedents in establishing the legality of them. He offers no wild-eyed sermons on modern political thought, but instead works within the confines of the established legal system and thought. I found that to be refreshing.

Amar himself has been an expert witness in congressional hearings and has been cited by the Supreme Court itself in its rulings. As a professor of law at Yale, Harvard, and Pepperdine, his research into the Constitution and America’s legal system has enabled him to enjoy a somewhat privileged view of the Constitution in both its purpose in 1787 through today and its application in the future. I found it interesting that he pointed out far more possibilities under the Constitution than impossibilities. Some of the things he brought up were certainly plausible whether I liked the idea of them or not. That was refreshing.

Amar’s exploration of the precedents involved in our system of government is something that is worth considering. The use of Blackstone’s legal texts is just as relevant today as they were in 1787. That is something I had never considered, but something that Amar as a legal scholar would obviously see as critical to our understanding of the law. That is why having multiple perspectives from experts helps as more minds are searching for answers to present to us. All in all, while not a five star book, this is definitely more than a four star volume.
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on February 20, 2018
I was very surprised and often flabbergasted reading this book. Just one example: the author writes about the judicially-granted Sixth Amendment right of persons charged with a crime to be represented by counsel as if it were truly meaningful, although anyone who has practiced law for a year or longer knows that prosecutors have to handle very few cases compared to public defenders, and have enormously greater resources at their disposal. According to the Washington State Bar Bulletin in 2006, public defenders representing defendants charged with felonies could only devote a total of 1.5 hours to each of their clients (yes, in felony cases). And their funding has been cut since then. Writing about parity of legal processes for defendants and prosecutors under such circumstances strikes me as actually obscene. The author repeatedly mentions the likelihood of criminal defendants lying in court. Without saying so explicitly, he shares the same bias as a super-majority of jurors who lie during voir dire, when they tell judges that they agree with the concept that a defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but almost always state nonchalantly in post trial-surveys that of course they assumed the defendant was guilty, because the police would not have charged the defendant with a crime otherwise. I have not finished the book yet, but I doubt the author mentions that most jurors in criminal trials are heavily biased toward police officers, and either do not know or do not care that police officers routinely commit perjury while testifying under oath. I spent years representing plaintiffs in section 1983 cases against police officers, and frequently observed such misconduct. I also represented a couple of police officers who were falsely accused of official misconduct or falsely accused of crimes; e.g., an officer whose ex-wife falsely claimed he had raped her and that she was too terrified to live at her own house but had to live in hiding with a friend. As this was purportedly occurring, she repeatedly called the officer from her own house and shouted obscenities and threats to destroy his career into his answering machine. But because the press had already condemned the officer publicly, his department threw him to the wolves and fired him. The officers who testified against him committed perjury more times than I could count. They know that the law enforcement agency they work for is not going discipline them for lying under oath. That is just ONE of many such inaccuracies and biases in this book.
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on September 1, 2012
I just received this book - two weeks before it is officially released. I'm not entirely sure how that is possible, but congratulations to Amazon for its efficiency.

As a Yale Law student, the temptation to buy this book was overwhelming. And it hasn't disappointed: as one would expect from Akhil Amar, the writing is lucid; the arguments are powerful (even when one might not entirely agree with them); and the level of scholarly detail astounding. I have no doubt that this book will take its place in the canon of Constitutional scholarship, and every law student, attorney, and judge should put this at the top of their reading list.

Amar is known for holding a few positions outside the mainstream, and this book is no exception. Like in America's Constitution: A Biography, readers will occasionally find, particularly near the end of a chapter, some claims that may lead them to raise an eyebrow. But even these deserve a careful read, and from time to time, the reader will be convinced. Even when they are not, hearing Amar's intelligent arguments will remind them of the necessity of not blindly following the mainstream and making one's mind up for oneself, based on all the evidence and logic.

Some arguments in this book are of enormous importance. Amar's call to remember the Common Law and revolutionary experience that colors the words used in the concise text of the Constitution serves as an important reminder to modern judges to avoid the temptation to construe language in a vacuum; like all forms of communication, it is vital to recall that the meaning of language is a product of social and historical context. Similarly, Amar's reminders that, even when a broad principle is enumerated in the Constitutional text, advances in understanding may lead it to be applied differently to how the Drafters may have expected resemble the 'New Textualist' and 'Living Originalist' (see: Living Originalism) schools that have done so much to ground rights 'discovered' recently in sound constitutional theory.

Nonetheless, one cannot accept what Amar says uncritically. Unless I have missed it, he fails to address recent revisionist arguments against the traditional identification of the early 20th Century as 'the Lochner era' (see, e.g., Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform). Whatever one thinks about whether these arguments have merit, they deserve a response. While Amar properly criticizes the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade for its singular unwillingness to explain how it found a right to abortion that contradicted the laws of every State, his proposed alternative basis - that these laws that specially affected women were invariably first enacted by all-male legislatures - is almost perverse in its tendency to ignore the fact that such laws are generally created not out of any evil desire to subjugate women (even if some - presumably including Amar - might say that was their effect), but out of a sincere belief that a child's life is terminated. Nor, as far as I can tell, does Amar discuss whether Roe could survive if a legislature in which women were properly represented decided to limit access to abortion. Again - whatever one thinks of abortion and Roe, Amar's argument has notable omissions.

Despite these caveats, and the disagreements many (if not most) readers will have with some of Amar's positions (inevitable for a book that comments on so many controversial legal and political issues), this book clearly deserves five stars. Overall, it is an excellent work of scholarship - and like all such works, it should not be read uncritically. But disagreeing with an argument in the book is part of the fun of reading it.
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on January 21, 2015
Essential reading for an understanding of our Constitution and our laws. Do you have a Consititutional right to own a dog? To mow your grass? To wear a hat? Of course you do. But I dare you to show me where in the document your rights are outlined. This book explains that and SO much more. I wish everyone who loves to spout about their Constitutional rights would read this first and actually understand what they are and where they come from. Should be mandatory reading before you're allowed to graduate high school. Alas....
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on April 17, 2018
I am a fan of Akhil Reed Amar who has clarified for ma a lot of points of the American constitution and Constitutional history, my hobby since retirement. He has been kind enough, even with his duties as Professor at Yale, to answer a question I dared ask him by email This is not to be construed as an encouragement to every one of his readers to bombard him with questions. One abusive reader is enough.
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on May 31, 2017
Dr. Amar is one of the foremost authorities on our Constitution. He does a great job here of explaining the assumptions and context that in which the Constitution operates. All who wish to understand our nation and our government.
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on April 2, 2014
I am taking Professor Amar's Constitutional Law course from Yale University as a MOOC through Coursera. Buying this text was optional for the course but I am very pleased that I did. After 9 weeks of class, I am thoroughly convinced that everyone should study the Constitution and read Professor Amar's books - 'America's Unwritten Constitution' and America's Constitution - A Biography' These books are not only text books, they are blue print of where we come from, how we live our everyday lives, and where we are going.
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on March 19, 2016
I gave 5 stars to "American constitution: a biography" but this one is not as good. It starts off very well but the last few chapters are significantly less interesting and quite redundant with the prior book. Nonetheless, a very interesting book by a superb American constitutional scholar.
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on August 6, 2017
All Americans interested in building a better understanding of our constitution and the development of law should read Professor Amar's books. You will understand the history of this founding document as well as other documents that have complemented our founding documents.
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