Amar does not present a single, unifying argument; his project is too wide-ranging for that. But he does convey a distinctive attitude toward the Constitution, one that manages to be reverential and celebratory without succumbing to the triumphalism that the often breathless tenor of his prose might lead you to expect. ("America's Constitution beckons," reads the book's sonorous opening sentence, "a New World Acropolis open to all.")
The New York Times
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. Agent, Glen Hartley. (On sale Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
With so much attention surrounding recent Supreme Court decisions and the nominations of the next Supreme Court justice and federal judges, citizens interested in learning more about the intellectual and political origins of the Constitution are fortunate to have this new book as a resource. Amar (Yale Law Sch.; The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction) has written a lucid and truly engaging history of the Constitution and its amendments. The opening chapter reviews the history of the constitutional convention and ratification process with all the drama of Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia or Richard B. Morris's Witness at the Creation. The remaining chapters review each article or amendment, section by section and occasionally word by word, and explain the ideas behind the words, that is, the historical, intellectual, and political knowledge that the framers drew upon and incorporated in the document. In many ways, the work is like an annotated version of the Constitution itself but in essay form. It may also be seen as a lay reader's edition of Philip B. Kurland's five-volume The Founders' Constitution. An excellent book that provides a real service and deserves a wide audience; highly recommended.-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A needed explication of a document that all Americans should know-but that few have ever read. Many professors don't assign the Constitution itself in courses in constitutional law. "The running joke," writes Amar (Law/Yale Univ.; The Bill of Rights, 1998), "is that reading the thing would only confuse students." There is reason to think so, for the Constitution has its confusions and contradictions. Yet, as Amar fluently demonstrates, its flaws are its virtues, for the Constitution does work like no other document of its time: It encodes the self-government of a "continental" nation and people and provides an elaborate system of checks and balances not only of the three branches of federal government, but also of the federal government as against the governments of the various states. In the second matter, Amar notes that the states entered the constitutional convention as sovereign entities but ceased to be so after ratification, for the idea that they comprised "a more perfect union" eliminated the possibilities of the unilateralism contained in the Articles of Confederation. The author charts the arguments advanced by federalists and antifederalists on such philisophical issues as the nature of the presidency and the presumed ability of the federal government to end slavery. The ultimate genius of the document, he suggests, has been its ability to embrace both the will of the state and the will of the people-the "we the people" who demanded more jury safeguards, for instance, than the original Article III offered, and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, and progressive taxation. Among amendments to consider now, he remarks, is a recasting of the rules of succession: "Much asAmericans responded to the tragedy of November 22, 1963 by revising the Constitution's succession system, so Americans in the wake of September 11, 2001 have good reason to rethink our statutory succession system before tragedy strikes again." Data-rich, but seldom ponderous.