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Amy’s Pick of the Week: A Year of Living Constitutionally by A.J. Jacobs

If you had to take an in-depth test about the Constitution, could you pass it?  If you are like me (and not an attorney or another who works in a law-related field) you can only recall the Cliffs Notes version. Yet, each time a Supreme Court case in the news alludes to the Constitution or a political personality claims a position because of how they identify in their relationship to it, it makes me want to better understand this vital document. 

A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Constitutionally is not only an entertaining, dare I say laugh-out-loud book about the Constitution, it is also informative. To write this book, Mr. Jacobs took on the role of one living at the time the US Constitution was written and sought to understand what might have driven the Framers’ thinking. 

His efforts included attempting to not use governmental agencies, such as the EPA. In one escapade, he pulled water from a pond in Central Park in New York City, boiled it at home for drinking water. That did not last long. He bought a tricorn hat, carried a musket, and tried to get people from all 50 states to bake an election day cake. While some of his efforts were absurd, many of the other actions he took highlighted how different certain things were at the time. For example, when he showed up to vote by voice, as one did when our nation was new, the surprised election judges required him to use a written ballot instead. 

Even with this hilarity, Mr. Jacobs leads us through the Framers’ original intent and some of the changes that have shifted how we read the Constitution now. He discusses, sometimes seriously, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, how his project intersects with issues related to the rights of anyone other than white men and how other necessary changes have occurred. 

This book is an overview and while it would probably not aid in preparing one for an in-depth test, it does allow the reader to have a better sense of the document and the time in which it was created. When there are opposing sides to an issue, Mr. Jacobs does a decent job of offering fair coverage of each and he names clearly when he is expressing his own opinion. This would not be the book to use to cram with before “Constitutional Law 101.” But, it may help you have a fuller understanding of this document upon which our country is governed.

Categories: Books and More

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