As part of the seminar I am doing with teachers from the Minneapolis School District I put together an annotated bibliography of some good books on the United States Constitution. Here it is:
Akhil Reed Amar, America’s Constitution: A Biography
Amar, a law professor, offers a line by line interpretation of the Constitution. He challenges the notion, common among progressive scholars, that the Constitution tried to curb or limit the democratic ideas of the American Revolution.
Charles Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution.
Written in 1913, this is the classic progressive interpretation of the Constitution. Beard has been debunked by most contemporary historians, but some of his ideas continue to live on in more neo-progressive interpretations.
Richard Beeman, et. al, Beyond Confederation: Origins of Constitutional and American National Identity
This book is a collection of essays written for the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Most of the essays are still relevant to the larger historical debates about the Constitution.
Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the Constitution
This is a nice, short, overview to the Constitution and its eighteenth-century framers. It is very personality driven.
Saul Cornell, The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828
This is the most recent interpretation of the Anti-Federalists. Cornell argues that the Anti-Federalists were a very diverse group and their legacy profoundly influenced Jeffersonian America and the rise of Jacksonian democracy.
Edward Countryman, What Did the Constitution Mean to Early Americans?
Like Berkin, this is a helpful introduction to the Constitution written by a noted progressive historian.
Robert Gross, In Debt to Shays: The Bicentennial of an Agrarian Rebellion
Collection of essays on the history of Shays’s Rebellion, the western Massachusetts rebellion in 1787 that many historians suggest triggered the call for the United States Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton, et. al, The Federalist Papers
This is the classic eighteenth-century commentary on the United States Constitution.
Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
Holton is sympathetic to, but also critical of, the progressive interpretation of the Constitution. He suggests that it was ordinary people who forced the framers to put aside many of their undemocratic proposals when structuring the new national government.
Michael Kammen, The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History
This is a great book for primary sources.
Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Secluram: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution
This is an intellectual history of the Constitution and a defense of federalism by a noted conservative scholar.
Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalist: Critics of the Constitution
This was once the standard interpretation of Anti-Federalism. It is still very useful and worth reading.
Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution
This is one of the best overviews of the Constitutional Convention. Rakove emphasizes the divisions within the Convention and the struggles for ratification.
Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic
This may still be the best book on the Constitution. Wood argues that the framers of the Constitution were driven by classical republican or civic humanist ideas about the relationship of government to society.