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Explaining America: The Federalist [Paperback]

By Garry Wills (Author)
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Item description for Explaining America: The Federalist by Garry Wills...

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lincoln at Gettysburg focuses on the writing and impact of the Federalist papers, their arguments in favor of adoption of the Constitution, and their relation to Hamilton, Madison, and other Founding Fathers. Reprint.

Publishers Description
Now with a new introduction--award-winning historian Garry Wills's definitive analysis of the Federalist Papers

In 1787 and 1788, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison published what remains perhaps the greatest example of political journalism in the English language--the Federalist Papers. Written to urge ratification of the Constitution, the eighty-five essays--trenchant in thought and graceful in expression--defended the Constitution not merely as a theoretical statement but as a practical instrument of rule. Now updated with a new introduction, Garry Wills's classic study subjects these essays to rigorous analysis, illuminating, as only he can, their significance in the development of the philosophy on which our government is based.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Explaining America: The Federalist by Garry Wills has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Kirkus Reviews - 05/01/2001 page 627

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Penguin (Non-Classics)
Pages   286
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.85" Width: 5.12" Height: 0.74"
Weight:   0.5 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 1, 2001
Publisher   Penguin (Non-Classics)
Age  18
ISBN  0140298398  
ISBN13  9780140298390  
UPC  051488014003  

Availability  0 units.

More About Garry Wills

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Garry Wills is a historian and the author of the New York Times bestsellers What Jesus Meant, Papal Sin, Why I Am a Catholic, and Why Priests?, among others. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and other publications, Wills is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor emeritus at Northwestern University. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Garry Wills was born in 1934 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Northwestern University.

Garry Wills has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Emblems of Antiquity

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States
3Books > Subjects > Law > Constitutional Law > Constitutional Law
4Books > Subjects > Law > Constitutional Law
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Government > Constitutions
6Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Government > State & Local Government
7Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > History & Theory

Reviews - What do customers think about Explaining America: The Federalist?

Civics you probably didn't get in high school  Jul 12, 2003
Garry Wills' Explaining America - The Federalist (1982) presents civics as I never learned it in high school. Wills is probably better known for more recent books (e.g. Lincoln at Gettysburg), or his coverage of the 1988 Presidential campaign. There is substance here - a detailed consideration of the context in which Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote The Federalist Papers, and their understanding of how the government would work under the Constitution. [Some of this conceptual framework was re-presented in A Necessary Evil.] The preface identifies this to be volume 2 of a 4-book series on the foundations of the U.S. government. I have been unable to locate the promised volumes 3&4, on the Constitution itself, and on the Supreme Court.

Wills opens with an exposition of Hamilton's & Madison's similarities & differences. He then focuses on two specific papers (of 85): Number 10, "Representation", and Number 51 "Checks and Balances". He elucidates the Scottish Enlightenment as the source of many of the most important ideas, such as separation of powers, checks and balances, and public virtue. Most interesting are the explanations that the authors of the Constitution gave as to how they expected it to work, which is not at all how it has worked out: representatives would exhibit public virtue (meaning that they would place the interest of the whole above the factional or party interest) because of distillation; political parties would not exist because they would be unnecessary; the primary (in fact, only) check on legislative tyranny would be the bicameral arrangement; the executive and judicial branches would be weak and relatively unable to resist legislative dominance.

Unfortunately, the book is not as accessible as Wills' more recent works (wordy with obscure details in spots). Perhaps this is due in part to comparative familiarity. Most of us have never really spent a lot of time on Constitutional law, nor read much of the original writings of the founding fathers, nor their intellectual forebears, such as Hume & Locke. But for purposes of understanding the founders' original intent, its applicability in today's world, this book provides significant insight. It is valuable precisely for the reason that we are unfamiliar with how & why the Constitution structured our government as it is.

Having enjoyed the fruits of our Federal Republic for over two centuries, we may be lulled into taking it for granted. Conversely, viewing a world abounding with tyrannies, dysfunctional nations, and failed states, we might look to the founders of the U.S. government for wisdom. Here we find that they struggled to integrate widely varied visions and concepts, compromised extensively, and produced a government that succeeded beyond their expectations for reasons fundamentally at odds from their understanding. Perhaps the only shortcoming of this book is that this crucial topic - success for reasons differing from the founding fathers' understanding - is not explored in depth.


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