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America's Constitution: A Biography
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America's Constitution: A Biography

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  585 ratings  ·  78 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 ...more
ebook, 672 pages
Published February 29th 2012 by Random House (first published September 13th 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,667)
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Eric_W
The historian HW Brands, in an article in The Atlantic, “Founder’s Chic” (September, 2003), has suggested that the reverence Americans, especially politicians, display toward the Constitution, is ill-placed. (We’re certainly seeing an over-abundance of Constitution worship on the part of the Republican candidates in 2011-2012 as I write this.) He argues the Founders, who barely agreed on anything and filled the final document with compromise after compromise, as revolutionaries, would be quite s ...more
Howard Olsen
I read a review of this book, which said it is the best book about the Constitution since the Federalist Papers. Hyperbole? A little, but it's not far off the mark. Actually, reading this book makes you realize how few good books there are about the Constitution. Most are either technical works for the law review crowd on one hand, and large print flag-wavers for the coloring book crowd on the other. Amar writes with clarity. Anyone with a high school education can read this book, and enjoy it. ...more
Sylvia Moore
This book is not the easiest read, but it's easier to read than I expected for a book written by a legal scholar. The author is careful to say that his analysis of the Constitution is based on his own interpretations of the historical record, and that other scholars have differing views on the subject. Nevertheless, I found the book to be quite compelling, and I learned a lot about why the Framers made the decisions they did. Of course, they weren't perfect people and they had a lot of disagreem ...more
Jessica
Akhil Reed Amar united law, history and political science in his comprehensive account of the U.S. Constitution. He compares and contrasts the founding of this legal document, our Constitution, to the English government and to the Articles of Confederation preceding it to provide a background of where our ideas of democracy were grounded. Amar starts with the preamble and then every section of each article, and at times, he virtually breaks down the text line by line to explain the reasons why o ...more
Jim
It took more determination than usual but I finished. This book is not a light read. It is telling that the author begins his postscript, "Any reader hardy enough to have made it thus far deserves both my thanks and an explanation."
The author takes you through the Constitution virtually line by line. He illustrates how the document was conceived in 1787 and the motivations of Madison and the other authors. Every article and amendment is discussed in terms of the motivations of the authors, the v
...more
Lobstergirl
Nov 01, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: George Peachey
Shelves: own, law, american-history

Amar pretty much goes Section by Section, Amendment by Amendment, though the Constitution and explains what it all means and provides the historical context. There is a strong emphasis on slavery (he considers the Constitution a powerfully pro-slavery document, becoming more pro-slavery as time went on due to the three-fifths clause, until the Civil War). His discussion of the Second Amendment was enlightening. He also makes the point that we need to unlearn the "fact" that we live in a republic
...more
Gary
Amar tries to provide what he calls a "biography" of the US Constitution, combining scholarship from law, history, and political science. He introduces some controversial ideas, such as his claim that the Philadelphia plan was essentially slavocratic--and became more so over time because of the unintended effects of the 3/5 compromise on the distribution of power in the house, the Senate, and (through the electoral college) the Presidency (and thus the Supreme Court). Amar shows how through the ...more
Frank Stein

This book is jam-packed with surprisingly worthwhile information on almost every clause of the constitution.

Its structure follows the constitution itself, from preamble to amendments, and although this might have given it the feeling of a reference book, Amar's interest in the document more than makes up for the lack of narrative.

He plumbs the origins of the electoral system (slavery concerns were at the root of it, as in much else), the unforeseen consequences of the 22nd amendment limiting pr
...more
Harper Jean
An ambitious blend of legal, historical, and political-science scholarship, this book examines in depth nearly ever aspect of our foundational document and how it got to be that way, including all 27 amendments so far. Law and history geeks will love it. Chapters 1-2 (on the Articles of Confederation, the process of enactment, and the basic structure of American government), 7 (state-federal relations), and 9-10 (the first 15 amendments) should be required reading for all Americans. Among other ...more
Ben
Sep 28, 2009 Ben marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Referenced in Tribe's Invisible Constitution (p. 52-53): "As a committed "constitutional textualist," Professor Amar rejects the theory that the Constitution can be amended informally, without any change in its official text. His highly original work of Scholarship "America's Constitution: A biography" argues, however, that what constitutes the Constitution's text has been misunderstood by historians and legal scholars alike. By viewing the Constitution in historical context, by attributing glob ...more
Mark
Absolutely wonderful history of the document everyone talks about but few understand. Amar provides context with lucidity and deep scholarly understanding, describing the whys and wherefores of how our founding legal basis was created, established, and added to. While fairly detailed, this is written in such language that the nonscholar will have no difficulty. I could almost suggest this be taught in high school. It would dispel many of the myths commonly believed by most people, even those who ...more
Seth
I think Akhil Amar is one of the most interesting thinkers out there. This book nicely and comprehensively walks through the Constitution, providing a descriptive, historic overview of its creation along with Amar's distinct analyses as to the history of its creation and the interpretations of various provisions. One of the few books of its kind that is just as good for lawyers as for laypeople.
Alexander
A great book that I highly recommend. This is a book, which, along with a few other books and articles, has come to really guide my current approach and understanding of the U.S. Constitution.
Mary
This book is totally unlike anything you've ever read about the Constitution. To my utter surprise, it's not about Supreme Court cases that interpret the Constitution. Instead it's a clause by clause tour of the Constitution interweaving history, political science and interpretation. I'd no idea there were so many provisions that addressed the Founders three principal concerns: national security, slavery and democracy. Before Lincoln, all but one President came from the South and held slaves. Th ...more
Alayne
Awesome. I have a whole new respect for the Founding Framers, who put together the US Consistution. With the Articles of Confederation as a back-drop, English Common Law and Parliament striking down as "the" model for democracy, the writers of the Consistution created an amazingly enduring document that Professor Amar brings to life in this work. The author spells out earnestly what the framers were balancing in the document, provides perspective on how modern and contemporary views differ on th ...more
Al
a great American history book!
Jacob Lines
This is one of my favorite books about the U.S. Constitution. Which isn't surprising, because Professor Amar is one of my favorite writers about the constitution. He consistently writes interesting articles and books that, even after all that has been said, challenges our conventional understandings.
This book looks at the entire constitution, including the amendments, and tries to tell the whole story – historical background, text, ratification debates, amendments, interpretation, later history
...more
Arun
Oct 11, 2014 Arun rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: legal
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joey
America’s Constitution is a thoughtful, impressively detailed, reasonably concise, relatively accessible overview of the Constitution, its historical context, and its applicability. Although Amar intended this book to go beyond “general classroom textbooks about the Constitution . . . pitched at an average ninth grader,” I sense it may be a bit dense for casual readers. But for anyone with strong interest and at least a basic foundation in constitutional law, history, or politics, America’s Cons ...more
Ross
This history of the United State's Constitution takes constitution to be an act rather than a text. It's focus, therefore, is not upon what the Supreme Court has said that the Constitution means, as law course and lawyers typically understand the Constitution, but rather upon the founding and the continuing activity of amending. While the Supreme Court does play a role in this activity (various of the amendments are responses to specific court cases), there is a much larger role in this narrativ ...more
Graham Polando
This is an interesting exercise in strategy. Most arguments for a “progressive” constitutional interpretation condemn the Founders as elitist, power-hungry slavedrivers (a la Charles Beard), while those advancing a more “conservative” view praise (sometimes obsequiously) Washington, Madison, and the rest.

Amar argues for the former using the tactics of the latter, praising the Founders as (imperfect) populists. It’s a unique tactic, and one that, for the first part of the book (especially those s
...more
Kaesha
Motivated to read this novel for a summer program at Yale centered around American politics, law, and economics, I was excited to begin learning about our history and the founding of the document that truly changed everything. When I purchased the book, I was eager to begin reading because I knew that I would have three lectures and two dinners with Mr. Amar: I had wanted to prepare some questions for him to take advantage of the opportunity to personally connect with such a knowledgeable profes ...more
Rachel Brune
To say that I loved this book would be an understatement (and yes, I realize I love a lot of books I review ... chances are, if the book didn't speak to me in some way that I found good, I'm not going to review it.) BLUF: I wish I could take a torch to every single "current events/pop poli-sci/polemic" piece of dreck on the bookshelves today and replace them all with this book.

Amar provides a deeply textual reading of the Constitution, but doesn't stop there. He contextualizes with contemporary
...more
Ron Tenney
Another great book about the constitution. This approaches the Constitution from the Preamble to the most recent amendments.

This morning, (4/9/12) I finished this book. I found Akhil Amar to be a wonderful author. I would advise a reader to read the post-script first, and then return to the rest of the book. I was especially impressed with the chapter on the Preamble to the Constitution. I never considered that the most (only) lyrical part of the document was so laden with meaning.

As most othe
...more
Conrad
I am apparently in the minority on this one - it has an average rating of 4.2 something at the moment - but I found Amar's approach to the subject a little too fussy. Got 3/4 of the way in and just lost steam. I was dismayed as I got into it that it was written in the form of a 400 page long close reading of the document, line by line, in order. There has to have been a more engaging way of organizing this.

Besides that, Amar is very - VERY - interested in how the issue of slavery (and the need f
...more
William
America's Constitution, A Biography is a fascinating read. Amar provides a nuanced investigation of nearly every line of the Constitution in accessible language free from legal jargon. While I disagree with some of Amar's conclusions, I gained better insight into the document itself, its creation, and how to interpret it.

I read this book a few years ago and had larger issues with it. Most recently, I read it while watching Amar's Constitutional Law class at Coursera and have come away with a be
...more
Tim
This is a remarkable book. The author's knowledge, insight, analysis and synthesis are amazing. There's too much to praise about it, so I'll just mention one aspect: Amar makes a very compelling case that from the beginning slavery was a disease spreading infection in our society and political system (aided by the 3/5 clause), increasingly corrupting our character and institutions until a terribly bloody breaking point was reached. The evil was partially righted, then amorality returned, allowin ...more
whatisbrain
This is an insightful and complete examination of the US Constitution. As well as the text itself, it considers the political, historical, legislative and judicial context that created, influenced and changed the Constitution.
Brian Stuy
With so much discussion in current political discourse of what is "constitutional" and what isn't, Amar's indepth look at the history of our founding document and its amendments is sorely needed. Casting the Constitution into the eighteenth-century time from which it sprang, Amar chronicles the backgrounds of the Founding Fathers, their collective and individual political philosophies, and the political context that inspired them to articulate each word of the document in just the intended way. ...more
Martin Cerjan
This has been my subway book since Thanksgiving, so fits and starts. This is a good beginning for those interested in the Constitution--and you should pay attention to all the postscript material about how a lot of other people have different interpretations--and all the footnotes. Very accessible and plenty of food for thought. My hat's off to Amar for trying to do so much--in 500 pages! I especially appreciated the material about slavery. Important. All of the business about geostrategy was in ...more
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Akhil Reed Amar is currently Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, where he teaches constitutional law in both Yale College and Yale Law School. He received his B.A, summa cum laude, in 1980 from Yale College, and his J.D. in 1984 from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of The Yale Law Journal. After clerking for Judge Stephen Breyer, he joined the Yale fac ...more
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“In the near term, such compromises made possible a continental union of North and South that provided bountiful benefits to freeborn Americans. But in the long run, the Founders’ failure to put slavery on a path of ultimate extinction would lead to massive military conflict on American soil—the very sort of conflict whose avoidance was, as we shall now see, literally the primary purpose of the Constitution of 1788.” 0 likes
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