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America's Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating Details  ·  188 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
Despite its venerated place atop American law and politics, our written Constitution does not enumerate all of the rules and rights, principles and procedures that actually govern modern America. The document makes no explicit mention of cherished concepts like the separation of powers and the rule of law. On some issues, the plain meaning of the text misleads. For example ...more
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Basic Books
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Max Nova
Mar 01, 2014 Max Nova rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: government, law
Akhil Amar’s “America’s Unwritten Constitution” is an accessible and well-executed book that lays out how Amar thinks about the Constitution. By interpreting the document in terms of its historical context throughout many periods of American history, Amar guides the reader through his own internally consistent and lucid understanding of the Constitution.

Most of the book is individual case studies (grouped by broad topics), although towards the end Amar makes several strong recommendations regard
Mar 11, 2013 Socraticgadfly rated it liked it
Good, but not nearly as good as all the fluffing reviews crack it up to be. And, it's got a couple of specific problems.

It's perhaps a 3.5 star, but, I'm moving down rather than up a half star.

Among its problems?

Amar claims that the Constitution enshrines 2-party government. No it doesn't, not even after the 12th Amendment. Even taking into account his definition of an unwritten Constitution, it doesn't, not from where I sit. Things like the requirement for members of the Federal Election Commis
Stephanie McCown
May 05, 2013 Stephanie McCown rated it really liked it
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Thus begins the document upon which our nation's legal structure is built. I found this book to be intriguing because, as much as we revere the written Constitution, ther
Apr 24, 2013 Louis rated it liked it
Akhil Amar’s America’s Unwritten Constitution takes a different approach to constitutional interpretation. Instead of falling somewhere on the literalism—living constitution dichotomy, Amar emphasizing looking at the “implicit constitution” and brings a different perspective to the famous Mcculloch vs. Maryland . Amar argues that the decision also lays the foundation for looking at the implicit part of the constitution.

In other words, the fact that not every possible issue is addressed is no
Vincent Li
Nov 13, 2015 Vincent Li rated it liked it
I was more interested in what he had to say as a scholar of law than a political scientist. I picked up a lot (in particular interesting arguments regarding the enactment of the constitution and reconstruction arguments) and definitely learned a lot of historical context. Additionally, I really enjoyed his bringing in of sources such as the Federalist, Blackstone's Commentaries, a short mention of Rawls and colonial cases such as Zengler. The author is clearly knowledgeable and the breadth of to ...more
May 30, 2013 Naomi rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It is a good thing to think about our assumptions and beliefs about what the U.S. Constitution really says and the developed body of interpretation, tradition, and practice that is the Constitution in action. Hopefully, readers will have a stronger sense of both the history and tradition and the responsibility for continued interpretation that keeps the Constitution a relevant and living document creating an America in which diverse peoples may live and thrive together.
Evan Macbeth
Jan 06, 2015 Evan Macbeth rated it really liked it
A fantastic overview of constitutional interpretation, with a clear agenda, but presented honestly and transparently. This is the best "civics" book I've read since studying Government at UVA.
Dennis Stimson
Dec 05, 2012 Dennis Stimson rated it it was amazing
Outstanding and even I could comprehend the authors reasoning. Well written and great information to consider. I enjoy Mr.Amar's clear and incisive way of explaining ideas.
Nov 30, 2015 Joey rated it really liked it
Amar makes the case in the introduction to "America's Unwritten Constitution" that the book is aimed at educated readers; no particular legal education is necessary. This is only partially true. A normally-educated reader will likely understand the broad contours of Amar's arguments, but readers with legal backgrounds will take much more home with them. Familiarity with well-known (in legal circles) legal cases will make it easier for readers to connect the dots of Amar's historical flow that un ...more
Buck Ward
I heard an interview with the author on NPR. The boo sounded quite interesting, so I requested it from my local public library. It took several weeks but they acquired it and I borrowed it. This book offers a detailed account of how the U.S. Constitution is interpreted based on Supreme court decisions and the changing times. It is not just an historical discussion, but it is peppered with the author's opinions. Yes, it was quite interesting, but I think it would be considerable more relevant to ...more
Mar 20, 2015 Mary rated it liked it
Textualist techniques for interpreting the Constitution. Amar is the nation's leading textualist and is often cited by the originalist and sometimes textualist Justices Scalia and Thomas. Some of the techniques are reading the document as a whole, considering the implications of how it and the Amendments were enacted, taking into account the changing realities of how Americans actually live, looking to other iconic texts and relying on judicial precedent.
Not included are two of the most sensibl
Jan 22, 2014 Miriam rated it really liked it
A wonderful description of components of the unwritten constitution and analysis showing the bond between it and the written Constitution. Amar's love for constitutional law comes through throughout the book. The last chapter, however, where he tries to anticipate future changes to the written Constitution fails. There, the book ceases to be about law and instead does a light comparison between the federal and state constitutions and then engages in advocacy.
Jun 09, 2014 Joan rated it it was amazing
Though I believe that big data should replace "reading between the lines" it was a good book.
Ron Tenney
Mar 15, 2015 Ron Tenney rated it liked it
This book is not an easy read. Not that the author lacks talent in telling the story of the "lived constitution" but that depth and number of issues discussed is a bit overwhelming. The points made can be a bit technical and sometimes the chapters tend to meander around a bit. I am surely commenting more on my abitlity to stay focused and grasp this material than on the subject matter or the author. I am setting aside for a while.
Jun 25, 2013 Brian rated it liked it
I think this book was much longer than it needed to be, and I don't think I will be reading another book by this author, but I did learn a lot from reading this book. For example, the book really informs the readers about just how important the Civil War and the reconstruction amendments to the Constitution were in making the U.S. what it is today, and I never realized that prior to reading this book.
Dave McMahon
Jul 27, 2014 Dave McMahon rated it liked it
The book is very interesting, but not accessible to the beggining reader. One must be versed with law to understand much of it. You learn a lot through the pages, but its a gruesome reading.

One bad side, the author keeps judging the Supreme Court judgement in a way like his own opinions are always right and the judges always less brilliant than him.
Dave Peticolas
Oct 08, 2014 Dave Peticolas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely wonderful book. The author examines the American Constitution and the set of unwritten rules, precedents, and conventions without which we could not make sense of the literal text, but which do not supplant the text itself. Reading this book is a serene joy.
Jennifer Lea
May 01, 2013 Jennifer Lea rated it it was ok
The book started very strong, with a great intro to Con Law. Very quickly you realize that this book is the author's attempt to prove to the world that he is just as great as, and even more knowledgeable than, the Justices of the Supreme Court. It was just too much...
Apr 16, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Scholarly but approachable history of how the terse text of the Constitution intersects with common practice, political & social evolution, institutional momentum, and the collective conscience of We the People. Recommended.
Sep 25, 2012 Danielle marked it as to-read
Shelves: scholarly
Another author I heard interviewed by NPR's Diane Rehm. He was super interesting, explaining the context and implications of all kinds of important Supreme Court decisions. A Must Read.
May 25, 2014 whatisbrain rated it really liked it
Another fine book by Prof Amar, recommended reading for anyone with any interest in constitutional law (read 'America's Constitution: A Biography' first though).
Sep 15, 2013 Ben rated it it was amazing
Very thought provoking and interesting (if occasionally dry) history of how interpretation of the US Constitution has changed with the times.
Sean Vangordon
Nov 24, 2013 Sean Vangordon rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book, and an excellent exploration of constitutional principles.
Tom Dillickrath
Dec 17, 2012 Tom Dillickrath rated it really liked it
Tries to prove too much, but engaging and well structured, if repetitious.
Jul 27, 2013 Kaesha rated it it was ok
Long and painful. Good luck, Publius II.
Mills College Library
342.73029 A485 2012
Jerry Walz
Jun 27, 2013 Jerry Walz rated it it was amazing
Mark Schwartz
Mark Schwartz marked it as to-read
May 27, 2016
melvin dees jr
melvin dees jr marked it as to-read
May 27, 2016
Nathan rated it it was amazing
May 23, 2016
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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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“The written Constitution cannot work as intended without something outside of it—America’s unwritten Constitution—to fill in its gaps and to stabilize it. In” 0 likes
“Indeed, these lenses and compasses are perhaps the most important components of America’s unwritten Constitution, and they form the organizational spine of this book. Fair” 0 likes
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