A monumental project carried off to a high degree of excellence. Though it may be too lengthy for all but the most patient...




A magisterial history of the creation of the United States Constitution.

By 1787, the American union was on its last legs, bankrupt, unable to tax or to wield military or economic power, and effectively unable to reform itself. That year's Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was ostensibly intended to propose amendments to the governing Articles of Confederation. Instead, working in secret under the guidance of James Madison, the delegates quickly set out to overthrow the Articles and create a new, truly national government from scratch. The odds against the various interests represented agreeing on anything of substance were very long, and the odds against ratification of the result by 13 jealous states were longer still. In crisp, precise style, and without undue reverence for the framers or their handiwork, Klarman (Law/Harvard Univ.; From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage, 2012, etc.) explores in great depth, with ample illustrative quotations, the varying proposals and the heated arguments for and against them. Particularly striking are what a blank slate the framers started from and the proposals that were rejected, including term limits for congressmen and election of the president by state legislatures. The author explains how sectional and other rivalries drove the sometimes-unexpected compromises that made an acceptable draft possible. His descriptions of the political circumstances underlying the convention are thorough and helpful in understanding the delegates' contemporary concerns. Klarman also provides a lively account of the raw political maneuvering necessary to achieve ratification by a minimum of nine states from an electorate largely hostile to the enterprise, which created a much more powerful central government than expected, subordinated the role of the states, and insulated much of it from direct popular control.

A monumental project carried off to a high degree of excellence. Though it may be too lengthy for all but the most patient general reader, constitutional scholars will find this thorough and authoritative work indispensable reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-994203-9

Page Count: 840

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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