A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution

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9780151009480: A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution

We know--and love--the story of the American Revolution, from the Declaration of Independence to Cornwallis's defeat. But the Articles of Confederation, our first government, was a disaster. This crisis caused a group of men to journey to Philadelphia in 1787 to create a lasting and more stable government.
The lawyers and politicians, some famous and others just ordinary men, had no great expectations for the document they were fashioning. Somehow, in the amalgam of ideas, argument, and compromise, a great thing happened: A constitution and a form of government were created that have served us well. Carol Berkin tells the story of that amazing summer in Philadelphia, and makes you feel as if you were there, listening to the arguments, getting to know the framers, and appreciating the difficult and critical decisions being made.
Retelling a story that is more hallowed than understood, Berkin brings us into the world of eighteenth-century America and shows us the human side of a great accomplishment.

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Review:

"The majority of historians seem to suggest that the founders knew just what to do--and did it, creating a government that would endure for centuries," writes CUNY historian Carol Berkin in the introduction to A Brilliant Solution. Sitting atop the pedestals we've placed them on, these figures would be "amused" by such notions, she says, because in reality the Constitutional Convention was gripped by "a near-paranoid fear of conspiracies" and might easily have succumbed to "a collective anxiety" over its daunting task. The story of the birth of the U.S. Constitution has been told many times, perhaps best by Catherine Drinker Bowen in Miracle at Philadelphia. Berkin's rendition of these well-known events is clear and concise. It does a bit more telling than showing, but this seems to be in the service of brevity--the main text is only about 200 pages. (Another 100 pages of useful appendices follow, including the full texts of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, plus short biographies of all the convention delegates.) Berkin is an opinionated narrator, unafraid, for instance, to call Maryland's Luther Martin "determinedly uncouth." She also points out that American government has evolved in ways that would make the founders cringe: they believed the presidency would be a ceremonial office (rather than the locus of the nation's political power) and that political parties were bad (when, in fact, they have served democracy well). Readers who want a sure-footed introduction to America's founding would do well to start here. --John J. Miller

From the Back Cover:

"Carol Berkin has now written the liveliest and most concise account yet of the adoption of the Constitution. With unflagging verve, she sweeps readers along as she introduces the players, canvasses the issues, and explains the critical decisions. And she manages the neat and difficult trick of presenting the framers of the Constitution as living, breathing, calculating politicians while simultaneously capturing the deep seriousness of their debates and achievements. The result is a sparkling, fast-paced, and always engaging introduction to the modern world's first great exercise in constitutional invention."-- Jack N. Rakove, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic

"A story all modern Americans need to know--the exciting and true tale of our nation's origins, as narrated by one of our best historians."--Professor Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

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