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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, History, 1997

What did the US Constitution originally mean, and how can we recover the intentions of its framers? These questions, which resound throughout today’s most heated legal and political controversies, lie at the heart of Jack N. Rakove’s splendidly readable work of historical analysis. In Original Meanings, he traces the complex weave of ideology and interests from which the Constitution emerged and shows how Americans have attached different meanings to their founding document from the moment it was published.

Original Meanings examines the classic issues that the framers of the Constitution had to solve: federalism, representation, executive power, individual rights, and the idea that the Constitution itself should become supreme law. Rakove pays particular attention to James Madison, the Constitution’s presiding genius, whose brilliance shaped the document’s framing, ratification, and amendment. The result is a major work of reinterpretation that should be read by every student of American history, law, and politics.

©1996 Jack N. Rakove (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“A deeply satisfying account of the political world from which the United States Constitution issued.” (New York Times Book Review)
“With exquisite skill…Rakove convincingly demonstrates how complicated the issue of original intent really is…A first-rate historian.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Rich, learned, and profound…fascinating reading.” (Boston Globe)

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  • Princeton Junction, NJ, United States
  • 10-24-11

Epistemological in its approach ...

Any book that uses the word epistemological many times in context is probably a book you might better absorb in print. This is one of those books. Mind you, it is a very good book. It attempts to analyze the intent of the constitution by close examination of material (including dialogue, conversations, and so on) of those who wrote the document.

It is also a very complicated book, full of legal terms. Clearly a lot of scholarship went into its creation and there's a wealth of material for anyone seriously interested in constitutional law and this period in US. Which is exactly why it is difficult to absorb as audio. Many times, I would have liked to flip back the pages and reread an earlier section to improve context and understanding, but audio isn't amenable to that.

Which is not to say you shouldn't listen to it: do, if this is an area of interest for you, but perhaps if you are serious about it, you might want to also read it in print.

About the narrator: NEVER has a narrator worked so hard to make essentially dry material sound lively and entertaining. The narrator does absolutely everything anyone could do to improve the audio experience and should be given a medal for his valiant attempt. To the degree that this material could be made entertaining for audio, he did it. If he couldn't make the book compelling, he did manage to make it listenable. That is no small feat considering what he had to work with.

This is a fine book, full of anecdotal and historical information and legal analysis. Listen to it. And read it, too.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Both sides of the story told

I was so tired of political histories claiming to be the real story but chocked full of political spin for one side or another. This has the story behind all the political spin during the making of the constitution. It gives both sides of the story. For those who like history or want to learn about the constitution.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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awesome history of exactly what the title advertis

This was an incredibly good analysis of the thoughts and words of the men who wrote the Constitution, the issues debated at the Constitutional Convention, and the views of each of the critical players on the various parts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, all based on contemporaneous sources.

  • Overall

Boring

The narrator is excellent but the author writes like a high-brow college professor's text book. Although he provides a lot of historical facts, his presentation is boring and hard to follow. I found myself struggling to stay interested.

In addition to that, the author starts his presentation with a false premise and then spends the rest of the book building his case on that foundation. The author is a either a Moderate or a Liberal because he tries to present every argument ever made about the Constitution as being equally valid. In this way, he tries to "prove" that there is no way we can really know for sure how to properly interpret the Constitution because everyone back then had their own personal understanding of what it meant.

If you're trying to gain a better understanding of the Constitution, this book is not for you. If you want a detailed analysis of all the historical facts that lead to the ratification of the Constitution and an understanding of all the arguments that were made from all sides, both for and against the Constitution, then you might like the book.

3 of 18 people found this review helpful