SOCIAL SCIENCES

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

Basic Bks: Perseus. Sept. 2012. c.668p. illus. index. ISBN 9780465029570. $29.99. LAW
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Amar (Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale Univ.; America's Constitution: A Biography) argues that the "unwritten Constitution," consisting of common law, common practice, and judicial procedure, is the foundation of the written U.S. Constitution and is equally important. The book addresses a complex subject, but Amar's introduction, which explains his approach and identifies his sources, states that it is written for general readers. Each chapter discusses these sources at length. The most interesting passages consider influences on the Constitution never anticipated by its framers, such as the women's rights movement; Amar provides detailed coverage of the Nineteenth Amendment as well as two seminal court decisions, Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned a Connecticut ruling banning the use of birth control and implied a constitutional right to privacy, and Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion based on this right to privacy. Amar points out that these rights are a natural outgrowth of the Constitution's explicit guarantees.
VERDICT Though written for lay readers, this is not a general introduction to the Constitution. Those with previous knowledge of Constitutional law and American politics and history will enjoy it. Undergraduates studying political science will also find it useful. Recommended.
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