The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the U.S. Constitution by Linda Monk

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  • The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the U.S. Constitution by Linda Monk

Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda Monk is simply brilliant. Monk takes the Constitution of the United States, including its amendments, and dissects it line by line, explaining the historical significance and the modern significance of the wording. She does so in layman’s terms, with amusing quotes in the margin, case studies in shaded boxes, and photos and illustrations. It is easy to read, and easily accessible.

Beyond the appealing format of this book, however, is the content. Reading the constitution with Monk’s gloss helped me to comprehend just why the U.S. Constitution has withstood more than 200 years and a Civil War: the constitution is a document that adapts to the changing times, both through the process of amendment and through the significant process of judicial interpretation of legislation.

Certainly, The Words We Live By is not comprehensive. But what it lacks in expanse it makes up in readability and interest, at least to me. I seriously enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding U.S. rights and government.

The most interesting section, at least to me, was the thirty pages discussing the first amendment, and the ways in which it has been interpreted. Most amendments garnered about 5 pages of interpretation, but the first amendment has been quite significant! I also enjoyed the history given during the discussion of the sections of the Constitution, as the history detailed why certain aspects of the government were designed as they were. And did you know that the Twenty-seventh Amendment was one of the original 12 amendments submitted in 1789? It was added to the constitution in 1992 after the required percentage of states ratified it, ultimately because of a college student’s campaign for it.

At any rate, I hope to revisit this book in a few years when I again feel shaky about what makes the constitution what it is. I certainly hope that Linda Monk updates it with a new edition in the future. (It was originally published in 2002, so I wonder what new verdicts may have changed things since then.)

For those in the United States, Happy Independence Day tomorrow!

Reviewed on July 3, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • This looks good! I recently picked up The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the U.S. Constitution. This one might be a great companion to it.


  • Pam, I certainly do not have a degree in political science, but it is great fun all the same!

    Lezlie, It is good! Nice and readable, as well as useful.

    Eva, I hope you enjoy it when you do!

  • Linda Monk is a lawyer who graduated from the Harvard law school (just as our president did.) She received the silver gavel award from the American Bar Association for this book. She is an expert in constitutional law.
    J.T….she just explains the articles, the bill of rights, and the other amendments which can be donewithout bias by someone intelligent which she is.
    President Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for ten years. His book “The audacity of Hope” also explains the constitution in plain English.

    And you don’t need a degree in Poly Sci to understand our own constitution. It couldn’t be more straightforward and it has held up for over 220 years!

  • Oh no! I accidentally deleted a very nice comment from Linda Monk herself! It had gone to spam, and I mistakenly clicked on “delete” instead of “approve.”

    She had indicated that yes, she was working on an update. Thanks for your kind comment, Linda! And thanks for this very approachable book! Her site is here.

    J.T., I think she did a good job being unbiased. Please let me know what you think if you read it!

    Helen, she certainly was very good at explaining!

    I imagine President Obama’s book, on the other hand, is probably rather biased, as he is plainly a politician! In fact, I’d be very surprised if it’s not biased.

    While I agree that no one needs a degree in Poli Sci to understand the constitution, I found it 100 times easier to read it in an annotated version like this rather than just reading it alone. As a non-political science person, I would have missed most of the implications, since I am not familiar with the history or the legislative and the judicial implications over the 220 years of history. This book was perfect for the non-poli sci person out there, and I’d highly recommend it.

  • Hi Linda, Thanks for your return visit and for your kind comments too!

    As to where I heard about it, I’m honestly not certain, as it has been on my “to read” list since before I started keeping track of where I heard about books, before I began blogging.

    Thanks again for the informative book!


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