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Annette Gordon-Reed, Writing About the Past That Made Us: Scholars, Civic Culture, and the American Present and Future, 131 Yale L. J. 782 (2022) (reviewing Akhil Reed Amar, The Words That Made Us: America's Constitutional Conversation (2021)).

Abstract: In The Words That Made Us: America’s Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840, Akhil Reed Amar writes of the parlous state of democracy in the United States. He argues that our problems are due, in part, to citizens’ failure to understand their responsibilities. The quality of our “constitutional conversation,” in which we talk about the nature of our government and our aspirations for it, is extremely poor. This is, in large measure, due to scholars’—historians’ and law professors’—unwillingness to create a “usable past” that would help Americans understand their duties to the country and to one another. He sees his book as a means of starting an enriched “constitutional conversion.” Along with his diagnosis of American malaise, Amar presents his own version of the origins of the Revolution (winding the clock back to 1760, before the more traditional starting period of 1763-1765), discusses the politically volatile 1790s, and creates portraits of the most well-known figures of that period. Amar’s presentation should start a vivid conversation about the nature of American civic life, past and present.