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America's Constitution: A Biographyby Akhil Reed Amar
"Amar has a comprehensive theory of the Constitution, and it animates his readings from start to finish. It is both a theory of constitutional history and a theory of the legitimacy of the Constitution as the country's paramount legal authority....Perhaps the best way to understand what we might call his hyper-textualism is that wringing reams of meaning from the document's jots and tittles is positively desirable, if not strictly necessary, under Amar's substantive theory of constitutional legitimacy." Richard Primus, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
In America's Constitution, one of this era's most accomplished constitutional law scholars, Akhil Reed Amar, gives the first comprehensive account of one of the world?s great political texts. Incisive, entertaining, and occasionally controversial, this "biography" of America's framing document explains not only what the Constitution says but also why the Constitution says it.
We all know this much: the Constitution is neither immutable nor perfect. Amar shows us how the story of this one relatively compact document reflects the story of America more generally. (For example, much of the Constitution, including the glorious-sounding "We the People," was lifted from existing American legal texts, including early state constitutions.) In short, the Constitution was as much a product of its environment as it was a product of its individual creators' inspired genius.
Despite the Constitution's flaws, its role in guiding our republic has been nothing short of amazing. Skillfully placing the document in the context of late-eighteenth-century American politics, America's Constitution explains, for instance, whether there is anything in the Constitution that is unamendable; the reason America adopted an electoral college; why a president must be at least thirty-five years old; and why — for now, at least — only those citizens who were born under the American flag can become president.
From his unique perspective, Amar also gives us unconventional wisdom about the Constitution and its significance throughout the nation's history. For one thing, we see that the Constitution has been far more democratic than is conventionally understood. Even though the document was drafted by white landholders, a remarkably large number of citizens (by the standards of 1787) were allowed to vote up or down on it, and the document's later amendments eventually extended the vote to virtually all Americans.
We also learn that the Founders' Constitution was far more slavocratic than many would acknowledge: the "three fifths" clause gave the South extra political clout for every slave it owned or acquired. As a result, slaveholding Virginians held the presidency all but four of the Republic's first thirty-six years, and pro-slavery forces eventually came to dominate much of the federal government prior to Lincoln's election.
Ambitious, even-handed, eminently accessible, and often surprising, America's Constitution is an indispensable work, bound to become a standard reference for any student of history and all citizens of the United States.
"You can read the U.S. Constitution, including its 27 amendments, in about a half-hour, but it takes decades of study to understand how this blueprint for our nation's government came into existence. Amar, a 20-year veteran of the Yale Law School faculty, has that understanding, steeped in the political history of the 1780s, when dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation led to a constitutional convention in Philadelphia, which produced a document of wonderful compression and balance creating an indissoluble union.Amar examines in turn each article of the Constitution, explaining how the framers drew on English models, existing state constitutions and other sources in structuring the three branches of the federal government and defining the relationship of the that government to the states.Amar takes on each of the amendments, from the original Bill of Rights to changes in the rules for presidential succession. The book squarely confronts America's involvement with slavery, which the original Constitution facilitated in ways the author carefully explains.Scholarly, reflective and brimming with ideas, this book is miles removed from an arid, academic exercise in textual analysis. Amar evokes the passions and tumult that marked the Constitution's birth and its subsequent revisions. Only rarely do you find a book that embodies scholarship at its most solid and invigorating; this is such a book." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[E]legantly written, thorough but concise, and consistently enlightening....I expect to be taking Amar's volume off my shelf for years to come as an indispensable reference....
"Amar...approaches the Constitution with a perspective that is both accessible and unconventional....There is a fluidity to Amar's analysis that contrasts with those strict constructionists and those with vested interests in the original intent of our Constitution, as if such ground were sacred." Booklist
"A needed explication of a document that all Americans should know — but that few have ever read....Data-rich, but seldom ponderous." Kirkus Reviews
"In many ways, the work is like an annotated version of the Constitution itself but in essay form....An excellent book that provides a real service and deserves a wide audience; highly recommended." Library Journal
"A rigorous yet approachable work....Amar has written his analysis with the general reader in mind, taking pains to examine each issue from all sides and tracing the ways each resolution has played out in real life." The Boston Globe
"[A] masterly showcase of scholarship....It is authoritative, important and, at a time of maddening political polarity, refreshingly hard to categorize." James Ryerson, The New York Times Book Review
"Contemporary events make it a book that demands to be read in order to promote intelligent discussion of critical issues for our nation and the world." BookReporter.com
The author presents a provocative examination of the historical forces — some quite surprising — that molded the U.S. Constitution.
The author, a member of the Yale Law School faculty, presents a provocative examination of the historical forces — some quite surprising — that have molded the U.S. Constitution.
About the Author
Akhil Reed Amar graduated from Yale College and Yale Law School, and has been a member of the Yale Law School faculty since 1985. He is the author of The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction and has written widely on constitutional issues for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. He lives in Woodbridge, Connecticut, with his wife and three children.
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