• The Words That Made Us

  • America's Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840
  • By: Akhil Reed Amar
  • Narrated by: Fajer Al-Kaisi
  • Length: 27 hrs and 6 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (56 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 30 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. 

©2021 Akhil Reed Amar (P)2021 Basic Books
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"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)

“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)

“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 and CEO, National Constitution Center)

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Every lawyer must read

If you are a practicing attorney in the U.S., regardless of your practice area and regardless of your political persuasion, you MUST read this book. Bar complaints will attend those who do not avail themselves of this resource. Somebody turn this into 30 hours or CLE credit.

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Provoking

This is a very interesting concept. Because I listened to this and could not really check references, I felt that it was difficult to assess some facts. The author clearly was strong in his praise of Alexander Hamilton, but I had no way to assess the references. I felt he was too judgmental of Jefferson and Madison using today’s standards applied to more than 200 years ago— a little too much political correctness.
I learned a lot however and it was worth reading overall.

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Dry as dust, but informative and well-researched.

This is one of the driest, most boring history books I've ever listened to, and the narrator certainly didn't help matters.

The only reason this isn't getting one star is because the subject matter genuinely is fascinating and incredibly important. For anyone deeply interested in the Constitution, this (unfortunately) is a must-listen. Had the author chosen a talented, lively, professional narrator to spice up the telling and keep the listener engaged, this likely could've been a 4-star book. Also, it's somewhat bloated with quite a lot of unnecessary information and definitely could've used a good editor.

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"Best of /Must Read" for knowledge of our founding

For those who would like to more fully understand from a legal and historical perspective how are our Republic was founded and the exceptionally democratic way in which our constitution was adopted, this book is required reading. Akhil Amar takes pride in the production of this work, which will doubtless live on as required reading in law schools and history departments for the ages. Enjoyed every bit of it and highly recommend it for young and older students of our beloved constitution.

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I wish every American could hear this book.

First, the narration in this book is extremely well done. Second, the contents are engaging and informative. I have listened to many history books on audible, many of them have been over 30 hours long. Unfortunately, a large number of them have been very dry. I found the style of writing in this book to be highly engaging. The contents are presented in a new and very informative way. The author clearly performed exhaustive research. I would highly recommend anyone interested in the founding of this country to listen to this book.

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WORDS THAT UNMAKE US

“The Words That Made Us” spins history in ways that may offend some historians.  Akhil Amar reveals interesting historical facts that arguably diminish the reputations of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison.  On the other hand, Amar bolsters the legends of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton.  Along the way, Amar offers praise for lesser-known visionaries like John Jay, Edmund Randolph, John Marshall, and Joseph Story.

Facts of history may be immutable but new facts seem to change history with every new historian’s research.  One is left with a feeling of unease about truth.  “The Words That Made Us” are also words that unmake us.

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I learned a lot

The book to me comes across with the ease of a novel and the seriousness of an academic treatise. With the arguments today about “critical race theory” and states’ rights vs federal jurisdiction, the book’s discussions have great relevance for me. An eye-opener is its explanation about why we have an electoral college in presidential elections.

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A tour de force

Professor Amar weaves together early American history in a way never done before. To show how normal sociological forces came together to create our constitution.

You do not need any legal background to understand this book. Rather, Professor Amar uses the metaphor of a “conversation,“ to make it understandable to almost anyone.

It’s a great “story,“ and a fun read for the summer!

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