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The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution
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The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  393 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
UPDATED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 10 YEARS, The Words We Live By takes an entertaining and informative look at America's most important historical document, now with discussions about new rulings on hot-button issues such as immigration, gay marriage, the right to bear arms, and affirmative action.

In The Words We Live By, award-winning author and journalist Linda R. Monk explo
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 18th 2004 by Hachette Books (first published 2003)
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Andy Biggs
Jan 04, 2009 Andy Biggs rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2007
Like so many of these types of books she takes judicial interpretation as being the law and not what the authors of the constitution intended.
Jan 04, 2015 Jeremy rated it liked it
While this reference book does have many good sections, I agree with what Andy Biggs has already mentioned. This book would have been much more useful if Monk would have focused a bit more on what our Founding Fathers actually intended and less on what modern day courts may or may not decide. This could have easily been done by incorporating many more quotes from our Founding Fathers. While Monk does keep things rather impartial to either side of a "controversy", sometimes she fails to simply st ...more
Jul 18, 2009 Brent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Armchair constitutional scholars, like myself.
Shelves: politics, history
How many of us can say we've read every word of the Constitution? Before reading "The Words We Live By", I couldn't.

Thanks to Linda Monk, I've read every word, and I've gained insight into the history behind the Constitution's construction, the rationale behind its 27 amendments, and the way the various clauses have been interpreted over the years by the Supreme Court.

One realization that has surprised me as I read this book is how fluid the law is. The Supreme Court has molded and shaped its re
The odd-feeling, clunky title does not bode well for this. I will say that this is very well-researched and fairly well-condensed so as not to be horrifically long. It's actually easy to get through, written at what I expect is about a 7th-grade reading level. The ideas are more complicated than what most 13-year-olds are willing to work on, though.

Generally a good overview of the U.S. Constitution, its history, and why the changes were made when they were made. One of the highlights is the inc
Aug 29, 2007 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
Many of BYU's freshman have read this book this summer (or at least they are supposed to have! I'll see if that's the case tomorrow). All of us Honors teachers (and others as well, probably) have been assigned to incorporate this book into our classes somehow. It's basically one of those books that is not very enjoyable to read--especially at the breakneck speed at which I had to read it--but is actually full of interesting facts and general knowledge that any educated citizen should know. I wou ...more
Feb 18, 2008 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every American adolescent and adult
Excellent job by the author, Linda R. Monk; she has written a clear and useful explanation of the U.S. Constitution, clause by clause, and actually made it flow nicely as an interesting read as well as being a useful reference. My quibble is that she skimmed over some controversies that I wish she'd covered in more depth, particularly that of the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and the meaning in its context of the phrase "the people," as this is likely to be one of the biggest political sto ...more
Feb 15, 2017 Emily rated it really liked it
This book was very interesting to me especially given the recent political turmoil in our country and I thought it was a good read with some interesting historical context for each section and each of the 27 amendments, and now I can say I've read the constitution in its entirety!
Sep 23, 2008 Jeffrey rated it really liked it
Since those taking political office and serving in the armed forces must pledge to support the Constitution, and every citizen informally / indirectly pledges to do so--those who become citizens directly--why this isn't taught every year in high school is beyond comprehension. As I said, the people who take office and pledge to serve this country are those that we vote for, ergo we must know the Constitution well enough to know what those we put in office are pledging to. It only makes sense. Bu ...more
Nate Smith
Sep 19, 2012 Nate Smith rated it liked it
Not completed 187/250
I really enjoyed this book. I am a political junkie and so this book was perfect. I would only recommend this book to people that like American history, to others it may seem boring. This book breaks down the constitution, bill of rights and all the amendments. I love how it gives insight along the permitter of the pages. When your reading about the laws in these documents it tells you about times when they were tested. The book was explaining the inauguration process and ho
John Harder
Jul 18, 2014 John Harder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The constitution is an outmoded document. This whole separation of powers is just silly and the president should be able to make and ignore laws without the pesky meddling of congress. How else can anything get done? The will of 360 million people only slows progress and one enlightened individual directing everything is much more efficient. When our current president took the oath to defend the constitution, he took his job seriously. The constitution needs to be defended against people reading ...more
Jan 14, 2008 Kendra rated it really liked it
A surprisingly enjoyable read. The book is broken down like a textbook, and breaks down the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Amendments, almost sentence by sentence in some cases, and gives more detailed information on the lines, along with thoughts from the Founding Fathers, and major court cases that have helped clarify the information over the years. On some of the more controversial cases, it gives both sides as perceived by well-known individuals, without being judgmental over it. Easy ...more
Oct 14, 2007 Kristen rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
Ok, I gave up. I waited 3 months to get this book because there were so many holds on it at the library (we were going to read it for bookclub, but changed our minds). And after waiting so long for it, I thought I should at least give it a shot. But, boy, oh boy. This book takes every single phrase of the constitution and expounds on them, in detail. I made it through about 50 pgs and was still somewhere in the first sentence, I think. I'm sure this is a very good study of the constitution, for ...more
Mar 24, 2013 Shad rated it it was ok
So far, this is like a high school text book . . . for liberals. I hope it gets better, but I doubt it will. It did get a little better, or my attitude did. Basically, I think it was a decent attempt at putting out basic background on the Constitution, the amendments and what the Court has done with them (with some newspaperesque additions) in a not-too-biased way. Given its length, it is necessarily oversimplified (to the point of being misleading and just wrong in some areas). There are a few ...more
Jul 17, 2013 Scottnshana rated it really liked it
A nuts and bolts guide to the Constitution for those of us who didn't go to law school but still take the law, current events, and the forefathers seriously. I enjoyed Dr. Monk's infusion of point and counterpoint editorial paragraphs to emphasize the views on Articles and Amendments--you may not see William Safire and George Carlin in the same book anywhere else and I think that only strengthens the book's appeal. I think she artfully included the historical context to each development in this ...more
Nov 26, 2016 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Reading this during the presidential election of 2016 is unsurprisingly topical, but was unexpectedly reassuring. Through these turbulent times, re-reading this text and getting the truly excellent annotations of historical context and varied first-person perspectives on the constitutional ideas has reinforced my faith in our democracy and our institutions.

The history of the constitution is the history of our government and of our society. This history is a dynamic one (our constit
Aug 25, 2009 Steven rated it it was amazing
A superb annotated guide to the Constitution and its amendments. If your knowledge of the constitution stems from a high school civics class or what you picked up on the street, this is a must-read. If not, short of being a constitutional historian or lawyer, you owe it to yourself to read through this entertaining and insightful history. In addition to detailed explanations, there are vocabulary callouts defining such delights as "corruption of blood" and "writs of attainder." Also, there are s ...more
Aug 27, 2015 Theo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book and every American should read it. To be self governed we have to know how the founding father set up our form of government. We have to us the freedom we have been given to better our lives and the lives of future generations that will come after us. Knowledge is power and knowing how we got to where we are today is knowledge that will help us as we move forward from here. If we do nothing we get nothing. We let others direct our lives and the lives of generations to come. ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gov-pols, favorites
Really enjoyed this book. The formatting of the explanation of the Constitution is rather unique. I love how the book took the different passages of the Constitution, and not only explained it but also brought the history behind the passage into the explanation. After reading this it would be hard pressed to walk away with out some what of a new respect for this document. The process a which Monk went through to discusses the various aspects of the Constitution helped in the mere understating of ...more
Aug 15, 2016 Meg rated it it was amazing
I loved it as a teacher of US government. I learned a lot: love it that race car driving gets its roots from the early-bootlegging prohibited industry! And, many more important observations about why Amendments were arranged as is: didn't put together that Congress needs to start on 3rd of January in case House needs to chose president for 20 January start date. Good read if you are into government. Wish all primary source pieces had dates though.
Jun 13, 2011 Malea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is like a textbook of knowledge that every American should be aware of. If you want to read or learn about the Constitution, this is the way to go about it. Now I am ready to search for current information. As I was reading, I would exclaim, "so that is why the government does that," "that is what the government is slacking on," "that is why our law enforcement is corrupt," and the like. It was quite the enlightening book.
May 20, 2015 Amy rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was a great read. Monk breaks down each part of the Constitution into manageable chunks and interprets each in an objective way. She includes court case examples and very interesting speeches and facts given by those involved. I found it a fascinating and very important read. It really whets your appetite for everything law. This would be a great read for any middle school/high school classroom.
Christine Shouldis
Great book. I loved how she organized the book by presenting the Constitution in full then breaking it down piece by piece. This book was clear and concise for the subject matter considering the author not only thoroughly explained all parts, but also gave a brief history and interesting facts regarding specific articles/amendments. This book provides a firm, basic understanding of the Constitution.
Sep 10, 2008 Tamra rated it it was amazing
I use this book a lot with people who think they know about the Constitution because they heard about it on the news or vaguely remember studying government in high school. The Words We Live By is incredibly accessible without being patronizing (like I just was in the first sentence). It's thorough. It's balanced. The layout is great. It's one of those reference books that should be on everybody's shelves.
Sep 21, 2009 Dan rated it liked it
The Words By Which We Live?

A nice, concise, layman's overview of the Bill of Rights and the Constitutional Amendments, which is exactly what I was looking for. It doesn't have much in the way of commentary, but again, that's what I was looking for. It has a few outlines of notable court decisions with regard to each Amendment, plus a few margin boxes containing relevant anecdotes from Thomas Jefferson, Thurgood Marshall, and...uh...Ted Nugent.

And lots of pictures to look at.
Arlene McComas
Jul 28, 2012 Arlene McComas rated it really liked it
This is not a casual read
It is more like a history lesson
I learned so much, when I listen to the political news, when I vote I am better informed
I often go back and read parts of it.
There are many notes written in the margins of my book
Buy verses reading a library copy so notes can be made
Oct 15, 2008 Danielle rated it really liked it
This book (read for a book club) goes through the Constitution, word by word, explaining what everything means and relevant laws, Supreme Court cases, and quotes. It was actually very interesting (but not a light read). It was good preparation for our upcoming election and had interesting things to say about current events relating to parts of the Constitution.
Apr 13, 2016 VeeDawn rated it liked it
The Words We Live By written by Linda R. Monk explores the many interpretations of the Constitution in a balanced manner. I'm sure length was an issue, but sometimes the stories that illustrated a point were so brief that the point was not clear. If I hadn't heard the stories elsewhere I would have been lost. Overall it is informative and enlightening.
Mar 25, 2013 Camille rated it really liked it
Good run-through the Constitution while bringing to light current matters that actually matter, without discounting why they matter. Typically unbiased, but I feel this book has a Liberal tilt. I think my teacher in 12th grade chose this to provide a balanced read to the more conservative population she was bound to be handed in my area. Regardless .. very useful read.
May 05, 2010 Tracy rated it it was ok
Had to return this book to the library before I finished it. It was interesting and provided a balanced study of the constitution. Having studied quite a bit of American history, I didn't learn a whole lot. However if you are unfamiliar with the constitution and the way our government works, I would recommend this book.
Jan 24, 2009 Brad rated it liked it
Shelves: politics-history
It turns out that this book is more of a high school text book. Even though it wasn't what I thought it was when I put it on my Amazon wish list, it's still a good walk through the constitution and amendments surveying a range of opinions.
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