Brilliant insights into America’s founding document.

THE WORDS THAT MADE US

AMERICA'S CONSTITUTIONAL CONVERSATION, 1760-1840

A page-turning doorstop history of how early American courts and politicians interpreted the Constitution.

A Yale professor of law and political science, Amar has written numerous books on constitutional matters. In his latest excellent analysis, the author emphasizes that Americans debated the nature of government for 30 years before the Constitution’s approval in 1788, and much of this occurred in courtrooms. Scholars have not ignored this or what followed, but 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. Perhaps most ingeniously, he asks, who is “the father of the constitution?” The traditional answer is James Madison, who participated in the major debates, kept the best records, and worked tirelessly for ratification. However, few of his ideas survived the debates, and others were attributed to him in error. Amar leans toward Washington, who “uniquely…got everything he wanted.” The Constitution’s most “distinctive feature,” its “breathtakingly strong chief executive…owed more to Washington alone than to all the other delegates combined.” Ranking other Founding Fathers, Amar places Hamilton second. A brilliant legal mind, he converted the Constitution’s sketchy articles into the strong executive that Washington envisioned. Adams and Jefferson fare badly. Both were absent from the Philadelphia convention, and Jefferson was never more than lukewarm about the results. Madison also comes up short. His conception of the Constitution never envisioned a powerful executive, and once he saw this happening, he turned against Washington, “partly to save his own political skin back in Virginia, partly because he was a policy lightweight on certain big issues (including banks, trade, and national defense), and partly because he was smitten by Jefferson.” Amar gives high marks to Chief Justice John Marshall, but his discussion of Andrew Jackson is unlikely to rescue that president’s plummeting reputation. Focusing on the Constitution, he emphasizes Jackson’s fierce opposition to the concept of state sovereignty promoted by John C. Calhoun, which permitted nullification and perhaps even secession.

Brilliant insights into America’s founding document.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-465-09635-0

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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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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