American Studies

"Stephen Knott’s The Lost Soul of the American Presidency is a fantastic history of the second branch of our government. It is not an attack on Donald Trump (though to be sure, Knott has his criticisms) but a reflection on the office rooted in the premise that George Washington’s character offers the ideal to which presidents should aspire and toward which the presidency should form them. It is, in that sense, a story of decline, though by no means a simple one or a tale devoid of hope for reformation or improvement. Fascinating throughout, and a model of how to think about American history through an institutional lens.

Greg Weiner’s The Political Constitution is a warning against the siren’s song of judicial supremacy. You would think conservatives would not need such a warning, but Weiner worries, rightly, that a conservative form of that doctrine now threatens to deform the character of the right’s constitutional thinking from within—especially if great judges are more or less the only praiseworthy legacy of Trumpism, which seems likely.

Great books on the presidency and the courts call out for a great institutionalist book about Congress, and while I don’t think I found one among the past year’s offerings, I’d highly recommend a slightly older book—Josh Chafetz’s 2017 book Congress’s Constitution. Read those three together and you’re certain to deepen your constitutionalism."