Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Constitution, Its "Cosmic" Theories, and More: This Week in the Book Pages

"Akhil Reed Amar is a rarity," Randy Barnett, professor of law at Georgetown, writes.  He is "a progressive law professor who is unafraid of the text of the Constitution."  In his review of Amar's  America's Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By (Basic), this week in the Wall Street Journal, Barnett describes Amar as "masterfully creative in finding overarching themes" and he finds the book "highly engaging and thought-provoking."  But, Barnett concludes:
Despite Mr. Amar's best attempts to convince us otherwise, the danger of the unwritten Constitution remains. The label elevates non-constitutional authorities to a stature equal to, or even greater than, that of the written Constitution. Where Mr. Amar cannot make the written Constitution say what he wants, he can simply appeal to the unwritten Constitution to say the rest. And, judging from this book, the unwritten Constitution just happens to agree with everything Akhil Reed Amar believes is right and good.
You can read the complete review here.

And for a critique of constitutional theory: this week at TNR: The Book, Marc O. DeGirolami reviews J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance (Oxford University Press).  As DeGirolami explains, Wilkinson argues that "the fall of judicial restraint (and the subsequent transfer of considerable power from the people to the judiciary) came with the mid-twentieth century rise of theories of constitutional interpretation.  The presumption shifted: judges should no longer defer to legislative enactments; they should use constitutional theory to resolve constitutional conflict."

Also this week, several books on war and military history:  The New York Times has Alan Brinkley's review of Frederik Logevall's Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam (Random House).  Brinkley writes:
Fredrik Logevall’s excellent book “Choosing War” (1999) chronicled the American escalation of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. With “Embers of War,” he has written an even more impressive book about the French conflict in Vietnam and the beginning of the American one — from the end of World War II to the beginning of the second Vietnam War in 1959. It is the most comprehensive history of that time.
Read on here.  Embers of War was also reviewed a few weeks ago in the WSJ.

The New York Times has a review of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (Knopf) and a review of Antony Beevor's The Second World War (Brown & Company).  Fergus Bordewich reviews Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan by Joseph Wheelan (De Capo) in the WSJ, and the LA Times has a review of Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer's No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden (Dutton).

Other reviews of interest this week include John Taylor's review in the WSJ of William L. Silber's Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence (Bloomsbury) on Paul Volcker's role in major domestic and international economic changes in the 1970s and 1980s.  TNR: The Book has a review of Robert O. Bucholz and Joseph P. Ward's London: A Social and Cultural History (Cambridge University Press).  Jeffrey Rosen reviews Garret Keizer's Privacy (Picador) in the New York Times.

David J. Garrow reviews Kenneth W. Mack's Representing the Race in today's Washington Post.  He concludes, “'Representing the Race' will be a prize-winning book that profoundly alters and improves our understanding of civil rights history."  DRE