BOOKS: Bicentennial Samplings

The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts ARTICLE I SECTION 8 BOOKS Bicentennial Samplings

A MACHINE THAT WOULD GO OF ITSELF

by Michael Kammen

Knopf; 532 pages; $29.95

Like any earthly matter, the Constitution has three forms: the solid text of the framers, the more fluid interpretation of the courts and a sort of glowing gas perceived by the public. That last Constitution, misquoted, rhapsodized over and construed to endorse the passions of the moment, is the subject of this imaginative book by a Pulitzer-prizewinning Cornell University historian, Michael Kammen. Kammen rummages through two centuries of sources, including news clippings, speeches, textbooks and public opinion polls, to gauge how Americans have regarded their own charter...