American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution

Coffee and Conversation: American Epic—Reading the U.S. Constitution
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See all. Featured Event. Report item - opens in a new window or tab. Epps draws upon an immense cast of supporting characters, however, most of whom make unexpected entrances: he invokes, for example, Walt Whitman, Vladimir Nabokov, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare although, as Bernard Levin famously pointed out, it is difficult not to invoke the Bard of Avon ,[5] the mathematician Kurt Godel, George Orwell, and Ronald Reagan. Picture Information. It would not be appropriate, however, to end this review on a negative or critical note, because its digressive aspects aside, American Epic is an immensely informative and useful volume. Preview — American Epic by Garrett Epps.

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Weekend Reader: ‘American Epic: Reading The U.S. Constitution’

He invites us to get to know it. The Constitution, Epps suggests, is not simply a distinct and authoritative text, but a kind of material fabric of national life, popping up and asserting itself throughout history, and, in its genius and its flaws, relating itself to multiple other aspects of national life, including other texts. Scholars looking for engagement with much of the recent work by historians, legal scholars, and political scientists will be by and large disappointed.

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The book is written for a broad audience, and it is too bad that little of the early modern Atlantic and imperial context or of the popular insurgencies driving the constitutional politics of the time that scholars [End Page ] have done so much to reconstruct shows up here. Epps does not explore the implications of the idea that everyone is their own chief justice—rather, he observes honestly that this might be the case and takes full advantage of the opportunity.

The book delivers what amounts to two readings, one an often clear and direct guide to the actual text of the Constitution, and the other a freely associative one. Here is where readers of all sorts might run into trouble. It is again not clear at all what the relationship between these two readings is supposed to be, and the associations, taken from scripture and other canonical sources of Western literature, are often random.

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Discussing the preamble, Epps declares it is not a prayer who thought that it was? He draws repeated attention to the text of the Constitution as a kind of secular scripture. All of these ruminations are well and good, but Epps does not dwell on these parallels or explore their possibilities.

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Instead, he uses them to build assertions that are distractingly overgeneral.