This is an ambitious and fruitful effort to trace the origins, drafting, and subsequent development of the United States Constitution. Smith admirably gathers the many strands of intellectual and political history lying behind the Founding Fathers' belief that a nation could be created by a voluntary, written compact based on a science of politics and that such a charter was needed to restrain man's sinful tendency to abuse power. Discussing key Supreme Court decisions to the 1960s (but stressing the crucial early 19th century), he shows not only how the Constitution has been applied, but how, through the drama of the Court's proceedings, the document acquired a mythic status as the embodiment of the nation's essence. Smith especially treasures the Court's role as guardian of the Constitution against the majoritarian spirit which, he says, became dominant soon after the Constitution's ratification. He depicts with particular adeptness how Chief Justice John Marshall established the supremacy of the federal government and secured the Court's function as constitutional interpreter by a political dexterity that rendered his decisions minimally obnoxious to the ascendant Jeffersonians. However, in chiding recent Courts for failing to restrain the elective branches of government within the confines of the national charter, the author appears to overestimate the institution's capacity to control what he properly regards as the major constitutional trend of the last few decades: the dangerous expansion of executive power. Segments of Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention, Supreme Court decisions, and other documents are inserted at appropriate places in the narrative. Briefer excerpts and more explanatory text would in many cases have provided greater and more cogent illumination. But the book as a whole will be a sturdy reference.