Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today
Authors: Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson
Peachtree Publishing Company
Grade level: 5-9, Ages: 10-14
There are people who carry a pocket US Constitution in their, you know, pocket. This book is not for those people. In my experience, the folks with the slim black copy of the Constitution in their jacket pocket tend to take the document as an unchanging lodestar, practically perfect in every way. I suspect they wouldn’t like this marvelous book aimed at middle grade Con Law scholars , because the authors present a more sophisticated, nuanced, and dare I say, correct view of the matter, one that shows us where the Framers got the Constitution right, and where they just got it written. And you know what? It’s a serious page turner.
“The Convention, ’tho comprising so many distinguished characters,
could not be expected to make a faultless Government.”
delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Virginia
“Manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances,
institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”
former president of the United States
From the quotes on the title page onward, the reader is asked to look at the whole picture of the US Constitution, the document from which our American experiment flows. Each chapter addresses a problem in the Constitution, beginning with a story, an example, either from present-day, or from our history. Then the Levinsons take us back to 1787, providing historical context for the article or clause or compromise which led to the issue. They also offer some examples, either at the state or international level, of jurisdictions that do it, whatever “it” is, differently.
If I’m making this book sound dry and textbook-like in nature, I’m doing it a terrible disservice. Although I hemmed and hawed about having to read it–law school was a looooong time ago–I loved Fault Lines.
The book is so smartly written. Illustrating each chapter’s topic with a story draws the reader in, so that by the time you finish reading about bicameralism, or the Electoral College, or gerrymandering, you are, not to put too fine a point on it, fired up about constitutional law. There are a judicious (heh) amount of poster-type graphic sidebars to help the reader digest the material. And including countries and state governments that make different choices give rise to all kinds of productive questions.
The book is so engaging. It’s packed full of humanizing stories about the Framers, who often seem to dwell on some American wing of Mount Olympus. And there are little nuggets of trivia that were new to me. Like, did you know that there were Presidents who served one year terms per the Articles of Confederation (the governing document that preceded the Constitution)? No really. Eight of them. I was today years old when I learned that by some reckoning, George Washington wasn’t the first president of the US. Mind blown.
And lastly, this book is important! Issues affecting all of us are on nearly every page. It will be mandatory reading for all three of my children, and I expect the level of dinnertime discussion to rise accordingly. It would be a great thought-provoking read for social studies classes as well.
In this election year, it doesn’t take a social scientist or a constitutional law scholar to recognize that something is very broken in the Union. Maybe it’s time we take a good long look at the document that created us, and figure out why. Maybe it’s time that we recognize that the “more perfect Union” was always the goal, not the perfect Constitution.
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to Peachtree Publishing for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.