As I write this, our country is once again reeling over a mass shooting. Such events have become tragically frequent, as has the debate about the legitimacy of the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, commonly referred to as “the right to bear arms.” But when that amendment is unpacked, it can be interpreted as the right to arm a militia in the shadow of tyranny – in the spirit of the United States’ liberation from British rule, essentially – rather than an assertion that guns in individual hands actually are an unalienable right. Similarly, in the wake of the Trump presidency, many other questions around U.S. constitutional law also have become alarmingly relevant – freedom of the press and freedom of religion, especially. But the list goes on, and with it, the mounting revelation that few fully understand this document forming the backbone of our jeopardized democracy. Here are some books that may help clarify matters.
The Making of the American Constitution
Rather than getting bogged down in dry historical details, University of Pennsylvania professor Beeman has constructed a lively yet thorough retelling of the 1787 Philadelphia convention at which the U.S Constitution was written, including key players and key issues, slavery chief among them. A big takeaway: compromise is the backbone of our democracy.
Akhil Reed Amar
A highly renowned constitutional law scholar, Amar takes great pains to break down the Constitution piece by piece, not only explaining each article, section, and amendment but associated controversies, past and present.
Discover America with a Gold Star Father
Obstensibly for middle-schoolers, this guidebook by Gold Star father, Democratic National Convention speaker, and Pakistani immigrant Khizr Khan can shed light for people of all ages. It not only breaks down the Constitution in clear, straightforward language but also conveys what such rights mean to a person who grew up with few guaranteed. It’s hard to read this without a lump in your throat.
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay; Series Editor Richard Beeman
“Publius” was actually a pseudonym for Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, who created this brilliant set of documents – 85 essays and articles in total – not only to influence the writing of the U.S. Constitution but to impact our then-inchoate U.S. democracy overall. It’s a stunning read.
The Willful Subversion of America's Founding Document
Senator Mike Lee
U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has crafted an impressive compendium of which aspects of the Constitution have (to his mind) been manipulated and/or overlooked over time. Also included: suggestions of how this “Lost Constitution” can be resurrected and how this might improve public life.
The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today
Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson
With accessible, entertaining style, this husband-and-wife team – she’s a children’s book author, he’s a Constitutional law expert – takes us through the creation of this document, including the story of how each related problem first arose. Consider this the ultimate educational tool for a family road trip.
This controversial take on the debate over the second amendment is unlikely to make anyone entirely happy. But in tracing origins and interpretations of the Second Amendment, Winkler provides useful insight into how the application of the “right to bear arms” has warped over the years – as has the role and purpose of the NRA.
Despite the fact that this is described as a biography, Waldman’s book shines most when it explores contemporary implications of arguably the most divisive aspect of the U.S. Constitution.
Geoffrey R. Stone
If there’s one place to which the government shouldn’t have much access, it’s our bedroom – or is it? In this volume, Stone looks at the Constitutional reasoning behind sex and marriage regulations throughout U.S. history, all the way up to gay marriage. One takeaway: the line between “moral” and “religious” reasoning is often perilously thin.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lewis explored the five areas of our free-speech rights, and some especially bothersome applications of them. This is a very necessary book for anyone who’s bellowed, “Hey, it’s a free country!”