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Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,762 ratings  ·  148 reviews
A classic history of the Federal Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, the stormy, dramatic session that produced the most enduring of political documents: the Constitution of the United States.
From Catherine Drinker Bowen, noted American biographer and National Book Award winner, comes the canonical account of the Constitutional Convention recommended as "required reading f
Paperback, 346 pages
Published September 30th 1986 by Back Bay Books (first published 1966)
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Roy If you are asking "does it tell a story, or is it just boring facts?" I can say it is powerful at it's non-fictional storytelling. The book gives the …moreIf you are asking "does it tell a story, or is it just boring facts?" I can say it is powerful at it's non-fictional storytelling. The book gives the essential story of each major clause of the Constitution as the arguments went in 1787, and it is a page-tuner. But every word is true, and, as noted, well-researched.(less)

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Paul Haspel
The “miracle” that occurred at the city of Philadelphia in 1787 took place in slow motion, as delegates to the United States Constitutional Convention slowly and painfully hammered out one compromise after another over five hot and humid summer months. Yet when that time was over, a miracle of sorts had occurred; thirteen fractious ex-colonies had the organic law that would bring them together as a strong and unified nation. And Catherine Drinker Bowen captures well the improbable, “miraculous” ...more
Matt Shake
Jun 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
I believe this is one of the most nuanced books I've ever read about the early years of our nation. I appreciate it's scholarly approach to source analysis from the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia that hot summer in 1787. I attribute this to the subtly of this book. Just when you begin to think one perspective/idea to be irrefutably true, the author shifts your perspective by using a different source. Then you see that--as the old political adage goes--"where you stand depends on where ...more
Mike Prochot
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Required reading for every American - followed by or concurrent with a visit to Independence Park in Philadelphia to get a sense of the beginning.

It is painfully apparent, if you have been following politics in the last 5 years, that many of our policitians today (including our "Constitutional Scholar" President Mr. Obama), who all by the way take an oath to protect the Constitution, simply are not familiar with the document or how it came to be, or why it is unique in the world. They need to re
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021
Why Bowen is SO GOOD:

• Her pen drips with atmosphere. You can feel the sweat build under your shirt collar as you sit in that stagnant State House for hours on end, day after day, all the way through the sweltering Philadelphia summer.

• She contrasts the culture of New America versus Old France and Old Britain, and why it meant that the government conceived that summer could only work in America (these chapters on America's social scene were somewhat of an excursus from the main action but heig
John Nevola
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
With all the talk about the Constitution these days, its alarming how little people really know about how it came to be.
Catherine Drinker Bowen has penned a fabulous, well-researched book that explains just how difficult it was to even create a document for consideration for ratification. Critics of the Constitution and its imperfections need to read this book to understand exactly what a remarkable feat it was.
The most frequent criticisms have to do with slavery and how it was dealt with in the
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a knowledge-expanding book and is my favorite read so far this year. I read it slowly, taking 31 pages of notes along the way. As the subtitle suggests, it is a narrative of the five months of the Constitutional Convention but also describes the ratification process. This appealed to me, in part, because of what was left out. I never felt burdened with the author's analysis, speculation, or hindsight. It is simply a retelling of events, often using the delegates' own words. I not only en ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nation new to its independence dealing with issues internally and external, it’s nascent future hanging by a thread all comes down to 55 men from across its length and breadth to come up with a solution. In her 1966 historical review of what became known as the Constitutional Convention, Catherine Drinker Bowen chronicles how the future of the young United States was saved by a Miracle at Philadelphia.

Though the majority of the book focuses on the four-month long Convention, Bowen begins by se
Sep 24, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Bowen's history of the Constitutional Convention is a great read, and makes what at the time would have been endless debates nicely accessible. It breaks into two nearly even parts, where the first is a fairly chronological account of the first half, and the second instead goes topic-by-topic for the second half.

This was deliberate, and Bowen uses the adjournment of the Convention at the end of July as an opportunity to take a look at the overall condition of the states, and then picks up the by
Dec 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Anyone interested in history and how the United States was founded should love this book.

Catherine Drinker Bowen tells us the story of the thinking and writing of the U.S. Constitution in the voice of the delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and made history.
The author used a plethora of sources to tell how the U.S. Constitution came to be step by step, day after day of the Convention. We learn that coming up with the historical document was certainly no easy work, and un
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, american
Miracle is not a word an atheist would like to see in the cover of a book. Religious controversies aside, it could be a disclaimer indicating the book is biased as f**k. Catherine Drinker Bowen is honest enough to call herself an Old Whig in the preface. She also mentions in the endnotes she did not have room to cover the anti-federalist ideas in depth, as well as other elements of the debate, before, during, and after the convention, that could have given us a broader perspective. It is, as adv ...more
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
An excellent book on the Constitutional Convention; lots of interesting details about the discussions and arguments that led to the compromises that led to the Constitution we have today. Reading about those debates helps one to understand why this (instead of that) decision was made. Very interesting to note that even the delegates to the convention did not think it a perfect document - but rather the best that could be developed at the time.

The end - where the ratification debates in the state
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
This was not a bad narrative, but it did not have much analytical depth nor a solid connective thread in the story it told. It did include good physical sketches of some characters and some anecdotes new to me.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very well done/researched. Perfect amount of details, so as not to be boring, but informative.
Katherine Enderle
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Proud to be an American. What a phenomenal, outstanding collection of people formulated the American experiment.
May 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Katie by: Wayne Abernathy
Favorite Quotes:

"Every miracle has its provenance, every miracle has been prayed for."

"Compromise can be an ugly word, signifying a pact with the devil, a chipping off of the best to suit the worst."

"Most of our political evils may be traced to our commercial ones." -James Madison

"A federal government operates on states, a national government directly on individuals." -James Madison

"To pursue happiness signified that a man could rise in the world according to his abilities and his industry."

Women's National Book Association of New Orleans
The Women's National Book Association sent this book to the White House today (March 1) in honor of Women's History Month:

From the Women's National Book Association's press release:

We launch our Book-A-Day Women’s History Month Program at the beginning—with our founding document, the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Catherine Drinker Bowen’s classic Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention tells the story of those few months i
Ronald Koltnow
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A narrative about the Federal Convention of 1787 and the creation of the U. S. Constitution.
Ash Jogalekar
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A superb, must-read day-by-day account of the Constitutional Convention which took place in Philadelphia between May and September 1787. The writing and description of not just the deliberations and the personalities but the stuffy, hot, Philadelphia weather, the shops, the clothes and the impressions of European visitors of a society that snubs its nose at class are so vivid that you get the feeling you are there. I have read a few other accounts of this all-important episode, but none so revea ...more
Jul 04, 2011 rated it liked it
I read this book during the same time period as I read "The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution" by David O Stewart. They are both good books but "The Miracle of Philadelphia" isn't as lively as "Summer of 1787." Stewart does have the advantage of coming around second and fixing some of the problems in Brown's book. Such as explaining some historical events that are referenced a lot by the founding fathers. This book expects you to know a bit of history. I like history and whil ...more
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is hard for me to rate this book fairly because I was not really ready for it. It is a book of serious history. No fictional reparte thrown in to lighten it up. Bowen is a superb writer, which is the only way I was able to get through the book. Her style is natural and she does make the wrangling over the Constitution interesting. However, this is a book that requires a certain amount of concentration to get through; (sadly, I haven't the ability to give it the concentration it deserves). My ...more
Jun 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fantastic book on the Convention, it really brings it together for you.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Three hundred and ten pages about a four-month long meeting of dead, white men arguing with each other? How could this be interesting?! If you have any interest in the USA, its history, and the social and political issues resonating still today, grab a copy and get a-reading! This is a “Wow!” book, engaging, well-researched, informative!
Author Catherine Drinker Bowen says of her goal in its writing: “Since the beginning, the country had moved toward this moment, towards self-government, towar
Lora Shouse
May 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first encountered the author, Catherine Drinker Bowen back in high school when her biography of Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice of England, The Lion Under the Throne, formed the mainstay of my research for my first term paper on Sir Edward. Though that book seemed huge at the time, it was fascinating reading, and because of it, I had been looking forward to reading Miracle at Philadelphia ever since I bought this copy from the Book-of-the-Month Club back when it was reissued around the Bicenten ...more
Bruce Fogerty
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Good narrative history of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It paints a good picture of the personalities and the competing political and economic interests of the states. Also provides a smattering of political theory to anchor the story. Upon reading this I learned a few things. First, I was made aware of how the unorganized territories in the Ohio valley and the areas west of the Appalachians were are huge motivator for the delegates to come to an accord. Until I read this book, I always ...more
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It was a very informative book for history buffs. Catherine Bowen is a very good author and has a way to just pull you into the situation. Her detail of the attire of the day, the heat in the meeting rooms, the smell of BO and the long speeches that last for hours and rarely accomplish concensus were intriguing. She writes in a storybook fashion to give you a sense of the time period and the participants expressions and some outbursts as tension rises. I could not wait til the next days meeting ...more
Brian Miracle
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
I’m writing this review on 12/19/19, the day after the US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump. It’s ironic that, with both parties invoking the constitution and debating the constitutionality of the action, I’m reading a book on how we came to have our constitution.

This book tells the story of the Constitutional Convention, with brief studies of some of the more notable members. It discusses the Virginia plan, advocated by the large states, and the New Jersey plan, advocate
Gina Johnson
Mar 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
AmblesideOnline year 9 book. Tells the story of the making and ratifying of the constitution. I found it interesting if a bit dry. Lots of quotes from primary sources which was nice. It’s a bit amazing to think of how many people took verbatim notes (by hand!) and preserved these happenings for us. Lots of stories and information you won’t get anywhere else. My year 9 student doesn’t like it and says it’s boring but I feel like it’s important to see both sides (federalist and anti federalist) of ...more
Frank Brennan
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
With all that is going on in Washington today, this is a most timely read. Most people don't know the back story of the Declaration of Independence or the drafting and writing of the Constitution. In fact, many people believe both are the same. They are not. In Bowen's book, which was written in the 1960s, you find details of what happened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. Was this an easy drafting? Just the opposite. Of the 55 delegates that started the process abo ...more
Giovani Facchini
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
It was a good book focusing on showing the discussions at the federal convention which would draw the constitution. It seems to be a little biased toward the federalist side (the current outcome) in which regards arguments or author excitement about it.

I felt the end was a little rushed since ratification and its discussions were too short. The anti-federalist arguments were not explored properly, although author express it in the end of the book saying it would require another book just for the
Polly Rosenstein
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent account of the Constitutional Convention, a brilliant portrait of all of those leaders involved in crafting it, a wonderful presentation of all of the arguments pro and con for the Constitution from the Federalists and Anti-Federalists as well a great portrayal of conditions in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 as delegates gathered together in the sweltering heat in wool clothes, keeping the windows shut to keep out the flies. The brilliance of the delegates involved enabl ...more
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Catherine Drinker Bowen was born as Catherine Drinker on the Haverford College campus on January 1, 1897, to a prominent Quaker family. She was an accomplished violinist who studied for a musical career at the Peabody Institute and the Juilliard School of Music, but ultimately decided to become a writer. She had no formal writing education and no academic career, but became a bestselling American ...more

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