While Miracle at Philadelphia will probably always remain the so-called "definitive" book about the convention, thInformative and just plain good fun.
While Miracle at Philadelphia will probably always remain the so-called "definitive" book about the convention, this one is a much more entertaining read. Stewart proceeds chronologically through the convention, yet organizes each chapter around a key theme, issue, or debate. You'll spend one chapter watching the South try to work its will over the horrid 3/5s clause, another listening to grumbling about the election of the President, and another mediating the wrangling over small state rights. Rather than read speeches or pore over the finer points of debate, you'll instead be treated to something of a historical suspense novel -- will they reach an agreement? Will the crafty Luther Martin bog down proceedings? Will John Rutledge work his will? And will George Washington ever say anything?
Stewart also brings to life some of the unsung, and previously unknown, heroes of the Consitution, not only inside the Philadelphia State House, but beyond. You'll read about the "Ipswich Miracle" -- the story of (perhaps) America's first truly successful lobbyist -- that mirrored the debates on slavery in Philadelphia so closely that some suspected a conspiracy. You'll get to know David Brearley, the still largely unknown delegate from new Jersey who solved the problems of the presidency, and the quiet Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts who, technically, presided over much of the session -- as it sat as "Committee of the Whole" -- while the even more silent George Washington sat with the Virginia delegation.
Jefferson once called those at the convention an "assembly of demigods." But in Stewart's hands, they become something more compelling: human beings. They bicker, they politick, they call each other names, they rush through work when they want to go home, and -- just as politicians do today -- they posture and swagger, even behind closed doors. But they could also listen, compromise, see the greater good, argue persuasively, and write beautifully -- and those qualities, ultimately, are what make the Constitution such a wonderful human -- and, in this case, uniquely American -- invention.
Sure, it's an easy choice -- the Citizen Kane of biographies, universally admired, and perpetually in print. But it deserves every word of praise thatSure, it's an easy choice -- the Citizen Kane of biographies, universally admired, and perpetually in print. But it deserves every word of praise that's been written about it. And if you say you didn't enjoy it, you're just trying to buck the trend, mister.
McCullough originally set out to write a book about the relationship between Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but worried (he said later) that Adams might get lost in Jefferson's shadow. But the more research he did, the more he began to wonder whether Jefferson could truly stand up to Adams -- and changed the focus of the book to turn the spotlight solely on the second president.
It was a shrewd decision, and the right one. John Adams -- heck, all of McCullough's work -- is not only a great piece of storytelling, it's a user's manual for How To Do Biography Right.
(Reprinted from brianjayjones.blogspot.com)...more
Think the legislative process sounds boring? Think again. Using the crafting and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to frame the story of JohnsonThink the legislative process sounds boring? Think again. Using the crafting and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to frame the story of Johnson's Senate years -- during which he practically invented modern Senate procedure -- Caro makes lawmaking look downright dramatic. Which it is, especially when the stakes are so high.
Johnson doesn't come across as a hero in the practical sense -- he's a boor, unfaithful to his wife, an opportunist, and, at times, doesn't appear to have any real core beliefs. Whether it's speaking to Southern senators with a deep drawl before turning around and talking to New England progressives without a hint of an accent, or kissing the appropriate backsides to secure plum committee assignments and roles in the Senate leadership, Johnson appears to bend his own personality -- as well as the personalities of others -- to fit his own purposes. But whether you like him or not, he understood politics, and process, like no one else before him (and perhaps better than any since). And once he became committed to a cause, he was a dangerous man to cross; no one could kick your teeth in quicker using parliamentary procedure than Lyndon Johnson. You'll genuinely cheer when he finally steers the Civil Rights Act to final passage.
Caro ends the book with a cliffhanger, as Johnson angles toward the Vice Presidency -- and Caro's next book will take things from there. Don't rush things, Caro, but really, hurry up, won't you?
(Review reprinted from my website at brianjayjones.blogspot.com)...more