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Publisher's Summary

A history of the American Constitution's formative decades from a preeminent legal scholar

When the US Constitution won popular approval in 1788, it was the culmination of 30 years of passionate argument over the nature of government. But ratification hardly ended the conversation. For the next half century, ordinary Americans and statesmen alike continued to wrestle with weighty questions in the halls of government and in the pages of newspapers. Should the nation's borders be expanded? Should America allow slavery to spread westward? What rights should Indian nations hold? What was the proper role of the judicial branch?

In The Words That Made Us, Akhil Reed Amar unites history and law in a vivid narrative of the biggest constitutional questions early Americans confronted, and he expertly assesses the answers they offered. His account of the document's origins and consolidation is a guide for anyone seeking to properly understand America's Constitution today. 

©2021 Akhil Reed Amar (P)2021 Basic Books

Critic Reviews

"Dazzling…Against modern historians and legal scholars who condemn the constitutional order as a bulwark of elite dominion, Amar advances a neo Federalist defense of it as a deeply democratic, if imperfect, blueprint for stable liberty. This is no arid exercise in legal theory: Amar ties searching constitutional analysis into a gripping narrative of war, popular tumults, political intrigue, and even fashion, highlighted by vivid profiles of statesmen."(Publishers Weekly)

“A page-turning doorstop history of how early American courts and politicians interpreted the Constitution. A Yale professor of law and political science, Amar - who points out that most historians lack training in law and most lawyers are not knowledgeable enough about history - delivers a fascinating, often jolting interpretation.... Brilliant insights into America’s founding document.” (Kirkus)

“Akhil Amar, one of America’s greatest constitutional teachers, has written one of America’s greatest constitutional histories. Amar’s unique brilliance as a constitutional lawyer and historian combine to create a riveting narrative history of the American idea that will illuminate and inspire readers for generations to come.”(Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO, National Constitution Center)

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  • Nancy
  • 24-07-2021

I learned a lot

The book to me comes across with the ease of a novel and the seriousness of an academic treatise. With the arguments today about “critical race theory” and states’ rights vs federal jurisdiction, the book’s discussions have great relevance for me. An eye-opener is its explanation about why we have an electoral college in presidential elections.

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  • Renee Kaplan
  • 22-06-2021

A tour de force

Professor Amar weaves together early American history in a way never done before. To show how normal sociological forces came together to create our constitution.

You do not need any legal background to understand this book. Rather, Professor Amar uses the metaphor of a “conversation,“ to make it understandable to almost anyone.

It’s a great “story,“ and a fun read for the summer!

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