A Country With No Name:

Tales from the Constitution

by Sebastian de Grazia

In a freewheeling, irreverent romp through American history, de Grazia, who won a Pulitzer in biography for Machiavelli in Hell, claims that the Founding Fathers illegally overthrew the first U.S. constitution -- the Articles of Confederation -- and frmed our present Constitution to consolidate centralized federal power. Furthermore, he observes, the Constitution does not use the term Americans, and the newly unified 13 colonies called themselves "Columbia" and "America" interchangeably, which indicated a lack of cohesive national identity in the early republic. Written in the form of 12 dialogues between a female, English-born graduate student and her inquisitive male American pupil, this iconoclstic inquiry wants to force us to rethink basic assumptions about the American political system, but it frequently overstates its case with hairsplitting legalistic analyses, as when Lincoln is portrayed as a slippery lawyer whose self-appointed mission to save the Union undermined the voluntary basis of political unity. We also met Thoreau, a self-proclaimed individualist who never left his parents' household and who erected a prefabricated dwelling along Walden Pond. But if constitutional history is not your bag, the grad student and her Yankee disciple enjoy a titillating relationship fraught with sexual undertones.

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