Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution

Books about the men who crafted the Constitution over the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787 tend to be either overly reverential or hypercritical. Constitutional historian Richard Beeman's account is, happily, neither. While he lauds the Founders for their achievement in establishing a workable framework for a strong, centralized American government, he also raises some necessary criticisms, such as the Founders' "collective indifference" to the immorality of slavery and their very real anxieties about direct democracy. As Beeman describes the daily debates in Philadelphia, from how to elect members of Congress to the powers of the president to the role of the judiciary, it becomes clear that passionate, ideological disagreements were commonplace. Beeman details the major divide between the interests of big states, which wanted Congressional representation by population, and small states, which wanted representation to be apportioned equally by state. He also describes the deep fissures between slave states and non-slave states. Because the Convention's deliberations were secret, Beeman is forced to focus on the one man who took copious notes, James Madison. Beeman shows how Madison's deeply held ideas about good government set the agenda in Philadelphia and fueled discussions among the Founders. Beeman does an especially fine job exploring "the most emotionally charged debate of the summer": the paradoxical status of slavery in a nation extolling liberty. Beeman's exhaustively researched and accessibly written account will appeal to anyone looking to understand the passionate intellectual conflicts that led to our Constitution.

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.