A provocative, consistently interesting take on our constitutional history.

THE LAW OF THE LAND

A GRAND TOUR OF OUR CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC

In the third volume of a series that assesses the Constitution from varying perspectives, a law professor approaches the document geographically, examining it through the prism of the states.

Constitutional law, as Amar (Law and Political Science/Yale Univ.; America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By, 2012, etc.) reminds us, is not merely the province of scholars and judges, but rather “a game that many can play…if they are smart and serious.” The geographical angle is itself a kind of game that, while not wholly successful, has the virtue of reminding us how much of our constitutional law is shaped by our federalism. Using 12 states from all regions of the country, Amar tells individual constitutional stories; all hold national implications, but each one is distinctively imprinted by the characteristics of a place or region. He deals first with personalities, influential constitutional decision-makers whose roots powerfully affected their thoughts on the nature of the Union (Illinois’ Lincoln), the applicability of the Bill of Rights to the states (Alabama’s Hugo Black) and the limits of presidential power (New York’s Robert Jackson). The author then turns to signal cases—e.g., Brown v. Board of EducationTinker v. Des Moines and Bush v. Gore—where the histories of the states from which each arose have inflected our understanding of civil rights, free speech and presidential selection. Finally, Amar concludes with a discussion of some constitutional principles and provisions: presidential succession (Ohio and Texas), gun rights (Wyoming), search and seizure (Massachusetts), and federalism (New Jersey). Even those disinclined to accept his thesis of geographic determinism will delight in his smooth prose, his frank confessions of bias, his frequently sharp insights and the many sparkling nuggets he scatters throughout, whether about the location of the only national park site named after a Supreme Court case or how Camden, New Jersey, got its name.

A provocative, consistently interesting take on our constitutional history.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-06590-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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