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Publisher's Summary

Americans revere their Constitution. However, most of us are unaware how tumultuous and improbable the drafting and ratification processes were. As Benjamin Franklin keenly observed, any assembly of men bring with them "all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views." One need not deny that the Framers had good intentions in order to believe that they also had interests. Based on prodigious research and told largely through the voices of the participants, Michael Klarman's The Framers' Coup narrates how the Framers' clashing interests shaped the Constitution - and American history itself.

The Philadelphia convention could easily have been a failure, and the risk of collapse was always present. Had the convention dissolved, any number of adverse outcomes could have resulted, including civil war or a reversion to monarchy. Not only does Klarman capture the knife's-edge atmosphere of the convention, he populates his narrative with riveting and colorful stories: the rebellion of debtor farmers in Massachusetts; George Washington's uncertainty about whether to attend; Gunning Bedford's threat to turn to a European prince if the small states were denied equal representation in the Senate; slave staters' threats to take their marbles and go home if denied representation for their slaves; Hamilton's quasi-monarchist speech to the convention; and Patrick Henry's herculean efforts to defeat the Constitution in Virginia through demagoguery and conspiracy theories.

©2016 Oxford University Press (P)2017 Tantor

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  • philip
  • bronx, NY, United States
  • 02-16-18

Best comprehensive history of creation and ratification of Constitution

This is a very important book for anybody who needs to know how and why the Constitution was written and our government was organized. By the way, that is everybody. Excellent scholarship, very well organized and told. Narrator was ok.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Context Matters

This is a timely piece of scholarship that provides much needed context to the drafting and ratification of the constitution. Challenging the deification of the founding fathers and uncritical visions of the constitution as an infallible text, Klarman shows that the document was shaped by self-interest and compromise rather than lofty democratic principals. Without didacticism (at least until the final remarks in the conclusion), Klarman uses historical detail and a summary of the dominant debates of the 1780s to indirectly echo Thurgood Marshall's belief in the constitution as a living document. Klarman, like Marshall, believes that context matters.

That said, the limiting fixation on self-interest amongst the states and the context of the 1780s undercuts the book. Rather than stepping back and reflecting on the decisions and compromises with hindsight to show the impact and unforeseen ramifications of the document, Klarman provides a very detailed, yet dry account of the arguments strictly from the perspective of the era. Again, context matters, and by not exploring the legacy of the document in each chapter the book relegates itself to being a useful companion for research rather than a standalone narrative.

This is a fine scholarly book, written by a renowned law professor for an academic press. It does not, however, work very well as an audiobook. The prose is stiff and plodding. The narration, while fine, cannot transform this into a pleasurable listening experience. Is it well researched and informative? Definitely. Is listening to it a joyless slog? Sadly, yes. Proceed with caution.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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How to Ratify a Constitution in 200 Steps

'The Framer's Coup' is a dramatic title. But the book never lives up to this promise. Even in the conclusion the author doesn't even mention a 'coup', let alone provide an argument in it's defense. Klarman does make a supported argument that the US constitution was much less inspired by Enlightenment ideals than by the vested interests of states, and that it series of tactical compromises produced the final document.

I learned a lot about the roles of individual figures in the drafting of the constitutions. And the book sheds important light on the 3/5th of a person allocated to southern states in the electoral map for African American population.

The blow by blow is far less dramatic than the account of a coup. It get tedious in places, requires patience and is often repetitive. A major disappointment is the short shrift given to the Bill of Rights. In 31 hours you'd think the author could find time to review the history of the key amendments. Instead he focuses only on how amendments were bargaining chips in the ratification process, without explain who supported which amendments and why some made it into the Bill of Rights and others were dropped.

On the whole this is an informative book. But it will put you to sleep pretty often.

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The complete story of the Founding

An excellent, comprehensive history of the Founding. It manages to provide the complete picture while still keeping the story lively and interesting. Klarman does a great job of mixing in quotes and letting the Framers (and their opponents) speak in their own words.

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A great book of history

This is how you relay history. Provide the facts, first hand accounts, sprinkle in some anecdotal information, and then give analysis.

This book does it well. You'll learn a lot. And while it can be a little dry at times, you'll never be bored to tears.