Eric Lane, Michael Oreskes

The Genius of America Publication date : August 25, 2008

The United States, with an existence of 220 years, is the longest-running democracy in history. While many countries around the world have used the U.S. Constitution as their model, Americans are growing frustrated with gridlock and conflict. In this book a legal scholar and a veteran political journalist argue that Americans have lost sight of what the Constitution really is: a pragmatic document that channels self-interest into productive consensus.

The Genius of America recounts the history of the U.S. Constitution, from its framing to the present, including some of the crises and turbulent times that it enabled the country to overcome. Despite the Constitution's resilience, democracy remains a fragile construct that requires both an understanding of history and a commitment to participation. Eric Lane and Michael Oreskes hold America's political leaders accountable, calling on them to stop fanning the flames of division and to respect their institutional roles. They argue that Americans must reconnect with the spirit of the founders. Otherwise, democracy will be at risk.

What is a true democracy? What is a good constitution? Is it an inflexible document that must be negotiated at every crisis? The history of the U.S. Constitution — rather than its specific contents — can serve as a springboard for other nations to reflect upon the best way to make their own institutions evolve to enhance the democratic process.

As the United States prepares to elect a new President, this is a brilliantly clear and timely introduction to the Constitution — the bedrock of the American system of government.

Eric Lane is a professor of law at Hofstra University School of Law and a member of the Brennan Center for Justice. He has served as director of several commissions on U.S. Constitutional revision and as counsel to the New York State Senate Democrats.

Michael Oreskes is the executive editor of the International Herald Tribune and has served, most notably, as national political correspondent for the New York Times.