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America's Constitution

A Biography


Akhil Reed Amar (View Bio)
Hardcover: Random House, 2005.

America's Constitution

"Akhil Reed Amar's AMERICA'S CONSTITUTION is auspiciously timed. The book's aim — in the words of Amar, a professor at Yale Law School — is 'introducing the reader both to the legal text (and its consequences) and to the political deeds that gave rise to the text.' This volume is nothing less than a word-by-word examination of the controlling phrases in the Constitution, beginning with the preamble and continuing through the 27th and most recent amendment. The result is a book that is elegantly written, thorough but concise, and consistently enlightening. . . . As one expects from the best history, America's Constitution illumines many contemporary debates. . . . I expect to be taking Amar's volume off my shelf for years to come as an indispensable reference . . . an uncommonly engaging work of scholarship." — Scott Turow, Washington Post Book World

"An extraordinarily full, rich, and fair-minded interpretation of the text of the Constitution that ought to be read by anyone interested in the document." — Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books

"No modern text has been more intensely and intelligently analysed than the fewer than 8,000 words of the constitution of the United States. Amar has written an original, thorough and opinionated guide to the goals and meaning intended by those who drafted and ratified the original 1787 document and its 27 amendments. . . . The indispensable starting point for construing the constitution has to be the document's original meaning. And the best available guide to what the draftsmen originally meant is contained in Mr. Amar's excellent ‘biography.’" — The Economist

"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 has written a lucid and truly engaging history of the Constitution and its amendments…. An excellent book that provides a real service and deserves a wide audience; highly recommended." — Library Journal

"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)

"Akhil Reed Amar of Yale law school has risen to prominence as a self-styled liberal originalist. Though a skilled practitioner of the historical methods often associated with conservative legal scholarship, Amar has found very different meanings in the wisdom of the founders and their successors in shaping the constitutional text. The latest installment in his ongoing project is AMERICA'S CONSTITUTION: A Biography, a book as informative and insightful as his previous ones... a lovingly detailed, clause-by-clause exegesis of each of the Constitution's provisions....Amar's exhaustive and meticulous analysis of the Constitution is refreshing in many ways. Done in an obvious spirit of veneration . . . it departs from most other accounts in its sustained attention to the structure and institutional logic of the Constitution. . . . Amar provides insightful readings of many of the text's least discussed but most significant provisions, and his interpretive themes breathe political and historical life into a document too often treated mechanically. " — Ken I. Kersch, Commentary Magazine

"There is no more inspiring teacher of constitutional law in America than Akhil Amar, and now all Americans will have the benefits of his scholarship, creativity, and infectious love for the Constitution. It's hard to imagine a more exciting guide to the text and history of the Constitution than this unique, surprisingly and illuminating book. A tour de force that should find a wide readership for years to come." — Jeffrey Rosen, author of THE UNWANTED GAZE and THE NAKED CROWD

"The most fascinating character in American history — our enduring Constitution — finally has its great and deserving biographer. And what a biographer Akhil Amar is! He writes like Jefferson, thinks like Madison and speaks like Lincoln. Everyone who appreciates the Constitution — and all citizens of the world who owe a debt to this influential document of liberty and governance — must read this wonderful biography. It is indispensable to an understanding of the constitutional world in which we live." — Alan M. Dershowitz

"I was about to describe AMERICA'S CONSTITUTION as the best biography ever written about the U.S. Constitution — until it occurred to me that it's the only real biography of that remarkable document. What David McCullough is to John Adams, what Walter Isaacson is to Benjamin Franklin, Akhil Amar is to the Constitution of the United States. Marvelously readable and breathtakingly informative, Amar's biography of our nation's founding documents fill a huge void — and fills it brilliantly." — Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard University

"Few biographies are as important, or as gripping, as Akhil Amar's life story of our Constitution. A powerful narrative as well as an indispensable research tool, AMERICA'S CONSTITUTION returns the document itself to its rightful place at the center of our legal and political history." — Jeffrey Toobin

"[AMERICA'S CONSTITUTION] is an extraordinarily unique contribution to the scholarship of the Constitution." — Martin Garbus

"Amar approaches the Constitution with a perspective that is both accessible and unconventional. He gets into the formative process of our most revered doctrine of governance by placing it in the context of law, history, and political science. Yet he broadens his focus beyond the Philadelphia constitutional convention to include popular conversation and competing values. . . . Amar dares to incorporate contemporary concerns around the amendments that have often prodded us toward achieving our otherwise unrealized ideals" — Booklist

"Remarkably lucid and comprehensive." — Nat Hentoff, The Washington Times

"Without a doubt, this is a bold book. And remarkably, Amar, a Yale Law School faculty member, has actually done what he set out to do. He has succeeded in writing what is quite possibly the single best volume on the Constitution since the student edition of Joseph Story's COMMENTARIES ON THE CONSTITUTION, published nearly two centuries ago....
AMERICA'S CONSTITUTION: A BIOGRAPHY is thus not only a work of considerable erudition but of wit. One of our leading constitutional scholars has made a credible and at times delightful bid to remove that document from the exclusive possession of scholars and politicians and give it back to the people themselves. Although not without its blemishes, this is likely to be regarded as one of the most important books on American government in the early 21st century. And what's more, it will deserve the acclaim." — Steven B. Presser, Claremont Review of Books

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