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THE OATH AND THE OFFICE

A GUIDE TO THE CONSTITUTION FOR FUTURE PRESIDENTS

A cleareyed, accessible, and informative primer: vital reading for all Americans.

A legal scholar advises presidents to read the Constitution with great care.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Brettschneider (Political Science/Brown Univ.; Civil Rights and Liberties: Cases and Readings in Constitutional Law and American Democracy, 2013, etc.) was shocked that “proposals to violate the Constitution that had been the stuff of far-fetched classroom hypotheticals” were part of Donald Trump’s agenda. The author responded in articles for Politico, Time.com, and the New York Times, which became the basis for this pointed, cogent, and authoritative analysis of presidential policy and power. Addressing future presidents (and certainly the current office holder) and all citizens, Brettschneider parses the text of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, offers historical background to illuminate the reasons for and controversy over provisions, identifies salient exemplary cases, and concludes with recommendations for any president. He distinguishes between an originalist position, which reads the documents “according to the historical meaning of the words at the time of their passage,” and a “value-based reading,” which asks, “what is our best understanding of the moral principles of the Constitution enshrined in its text and in our case law?” Clearly, the author advocates a value-based reading, since originalists sometimes fail to investigate the history underlying certain provisions. Focusing on a question that arose during the George W. Bush administration regarding the use of “enhanced interrogation,” Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the ban on cruel and unusual punishment did not apply, since extracting information is not technically punishment. Brettschneider argues, however, that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as stipulated in the Bill of Rights, was imported from the British Bill of Rights to end “the arbitrary and cruel abuses—especially torture—committed by kings and queens against their subjects.” The author offers a clear explanation of many complex issues, such as the provisions of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law; and the process involved in impeachment, including the question of whether obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense.

A cleareyed, accessible, and informative primer: vital reading for all Americans.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-65212-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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