The Words That Made Us: America's Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840 (Hardcover)
On our shelves
A history of the American Constitution's formative decades from a preeminent legal scholar
When the US Constitution won popular approval in 1788, it was the culmination of thirty years of passionate argument over the nature of government. But ratification hardly ended the conversation. For the next half century, ordinary Americans and statesmen alike continued to wrestle with weighty questions in the halls of government and in the pages of newspapers. Should the nation's borders be expanded? Should America allow slavery to spread westward? What rights should Indian nations hold? What was the proper role of the judicial branch?
In The Words that Made Us, Akhil Reed Amar unites history and law in a vivid narrative of the biggest constitutional questions early Americans confronted, and he expertly assesses the answers they offered. His account of the document's origins and consolidation is a guide for anyone seeking to properly understand America's Constitution today.
About the Author
Akhil Reed Amar is the Sterling professor of law and political science at Yale University and the author of several books on constitutional law and history, including America's Constitution: A Biography and America's Unwritten Constitution. He lives in Woodbridge, Connecticut.
“Deeply probing, highly readable… insightful, and at times surprising… Amar strongly suggests that America as a whole — through its great national conversation — did more to draft the Declaration of Independence than Jefferson, and more to write the Constitution than Madison…. In addition to educating Americans engaged in discussion about their rich constitutional legacy, the book has a generous spirit that can be a much-needed balm in these troubled times.”—New York Times
“Amar offers a fresh look at the ideas that shaped the Revolution, constitutional framing, and early republic… he has written a book both popular and learned, one that is fast-paced enough to hold the attention of the general reader and yet makes enough new points about fundamental matters to engage the serious scholar. And it comes at a critical time.”—Law & Liberty
"Dazzling…Against modern historians and legal scholars who condemn the constitutional order as a bulwark of elite dominion, Amar advances a neo Federalist defense of it as a deeply democratic, if imperfect, blueprint for stable liberty. This is no arid exercise in legal theory: Amar ties searching constitutional analysis into a gripping narrative of war, popular tumults, political intrigue, and even fashion, highlighted by vivid profiles of statesmen."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A page-turning doorstop history of how early American courts and politicians interpreted the Constitution. A Yale professor of law and political science, 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. . . . Brilliant insights into America’s founding document.”—Kirkus (starred review)
"An audacious review of the Constitution’s origins, growth, development, and implementation, and the experiences and exchanges that produced its core principles and precedents....Amar’s multifaceted treatment of the start of the U.S. constitutional project illustrates much about our historical memory and demonstrates that there is far more to the constitution than the document itself."—Library Journal (starred review)
“Akhil Amar, one of America’s greatest constitutional teachers, has written one of America’s greatest constitutional histories. Amar’s unique brilliance as a constitutional lawyer and historian combine to create a riveting narrative history of the American idea that will illuminate and inspire readers for generations to come.”—Jeffrey Rosen, President & CEO, National Constitution Center
“This masterpiece of a book reveals Akhil Amar to be the greatest constitutional historian of his generation. He brilliantly shows, for example, how George Washington got everything he wanted at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, while geniuses like Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and Franklin all came up short. This book will be the canonical account of the birth of our Constitution and our early years as a nation for decades to come.”—Steven Gow Calabresi, Clayton J. & Henry R. Barber Professor, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
“With characteristic insight and wit, Akhil Amar brilliantly revives the classic constitutional history of the United States for a twenty-first-century nation. Deftly telling the story of the birth of the American constitutional system of government, Amar confronts the founders’ failures and successes with admirable frankness.”—Mary Sarah Bilder, Founders Professor, Boston College
"Without princes or priests to impose it from above, America's Constitution evolved from an ongoing public conversation. In this timely and illuminating volume, constitutional historian Akhil Amar superbly unpacks the meaning of those words that continue to matter from the founding era. Highly recommended."—Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Summer for the Gods
“Akhil Amar masterfully tracks eighty years of words (and images)--urgent, sometimes angry, but always to the point. When lawless mobs, cheered by reckless pols, roam city streets and Capitol hallways, understanding our founding conversation is more important than ever.”—Richard Brookhiser, author of Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea
"Some see history as a series of separate events. Amar knows, and demonstrates brilliantly, that history overlaps itself, that at each stage we must find (or invent) a usable past from which to shove ourselves into the featureless future. How does one present such a complex back-and-forth use of the past to escape the past? This book shows how."—Garry Wills, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lincoln at Gettysburg