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Cannonball Read IV: Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman

By Erin is Scrumtrulescent | Books | March 29, 2012 |

By Erin is Scrumtrulescent | Books | March 29, 2012 |

If there was one subject in high school I absolutely hated with every fiber of my being, it was history. It wasn’t that I was one of those kids who questioned why we had to learn all that stuff because I would never use it or that the past had no reflections on today or anything so thoughtful, it just bored me to tears. It was just names all names and dates, and for the most part I forgot anything I learned soon after we were done covering it. However, last year a friend wore me down with her recommendations to read a book on the Lincoln assassination (James L. Swanson’s Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer) and I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. I loved the style in the book - Swanson managed to take something that was already sort of interesting and then cover it from so many different angles, weaving it into something that read almost like fiction, that for a few days I forgot just how much I hated history.

Richard Beeman’s Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution is not as effortless a read as Swanson’s book, but Swanson had less of the uphill battle turning all that material into something readable. To his credit, Beeman does a pretty good job here. He covers the day-to-day progress of the nearly four months it took to get the document written. What makes all that tolerable is his making the men involved into more than just their accomplishments. When you realize just how varied the backgrounds were of the fifty or so men involved, and that they were trying to get this written during the spring and summer months in Philadelphia all shoved into a stuffy assembly room, it is amazing that it didn’t take even longer. There were definitely some characters here - a one-legged ladies’ man, a few people with a healthy Napoleon complex, some flakes who couldn’t make it until the end, and a scant few men who miraculously kept them all on task long enough for it to get done.

It took me a bit longer to get through than I thought it would, but I think the biggest mistake I made was trying to read this while also doing other things or at work. There are a lot of people involved here and it is not something you can really stop and start frequently without your enjoyment of it suffering a bit. That all being said, still very much worth checking out.

( Header photo: “Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States” by artist Howard Chandler Christy)

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more reviews by Erin is Scrumtrulescent on the group blog.

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