The Words That Made Us

Basic. May 2021. 832p. ISBN 9780465096350. $40. HIST
This first volume of a proposed trilogy about the U.S. Constitution (each book to treat an 80-year span) sweeps forward from 1760 to 1840 in an audacious review of the Constitution’s origins, growth, development, and implementation, and the experiences and exchanges that produced its core principles and precedents. Amar (law and political science, Yale Univ.; America’s Unwritten Constitution) blends biographical narratives with constitutional analysis to consider the American Revolution, the Confederation years, the Constitutional Convention, and the early national period. He discusses the thinking and interplay of framers George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, and early shapers of constitutional law, including Chief Justice John Marshall and Justice Joseph Story. Amar’s multifaceted treatment of the start of the U.S. constitutional project illustrates much about our historical memory and demonstrates that there is far more to the constitution than the document itself; all this complicates its understanding.
VERDICT Although sometimes dense in detail, Amar’s original work offers general readers an accessible and often entertaining narrative and lessons to glean from the founding document of the United States. The wide range of material covered in the book will give scholars plenty of interpretations to engage with.
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