February 16, 2006

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Young Patriots: The Remarkable Story of Two Men, Their Impossible Plan and the Revolution That Created the Constitution, by Charles Cerami (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005, 354 pages)

Charles Cerami, author of the 2003 bestseller Jefferson’s Great Gamble, gives us an information-packed, digression-filled account of the Constitutional Convention in Young Patriots, wherein our founding fathers, having won an independent nation, ask, “Now that we’ve got it, what do we do with it?”

It’s like C-SPAN for 1787 – gavel-to-gavel coverage. Plus, Cerami dissects social and political forces and looks into the personal lives of the men involved, not only key “young patriots” Madison and Hamilton but many others. He writes with a sense of humor, tying in yesterday’s concerns with today’s (e.g. “no new taxes”), imagining the effects of working six to eight hours a day for weeks on end in the stifling heat of the State House in Philadelphia. For all its rich detail, Young Patriots loses some immediacy to its many tangents; still, if you have time to indulge those, or you can keep your focus on the core points, you can come away with a lot – an understanding of what provoked us to get going on a constitution in the first place, for instance (short answer: outside enemies, internal unrest, and territorial disputes), and some insight into what issues were debated the most. (You know those arguments we have today about the Electoral College system? There was a lot of that kind of thing.)

Best of all? Cerami says, “most of the men who came, while successful, did nothing spectacular with their lives before or after this convention.” So, see? There’s hope for you yet. B

—Lisa Parsons

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