The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide To the Constitution

(revised edition, 2015)

The Words We Live By is designed to give Americans the balanced and accessible information they need to more fully understand the nation’s charter. It is a distilled overview of the historical background, legal analysis, and current controversies of the Constitution. Using the metaphor of the Constitution as a conversation, The Words We Live By is filled with quotes by Americans of wide-ranging views from all walks of life.

America’s conversation about liberty included women and men of all classes, races, and religions—enslaved and free. The slaves of Massachusetts petitioned for their “unalienable right to freedom” in 1777 with words echoing the Declaration of Independence. White men without property sought the right to vote. The Cherokee Nation, although deprived of its land, believed that American Indians should be protected under the Constitution. Women argued that they, too, were included in “We the People.”

The Words We Live By includes the voices of America’s founders and fanatics, of Supreme Court justices and civil rights workers. Among this cacophony are rock star Ted Nugent, first-grader Ruby Bridges, ex-con Clarence Earl Gideon, marriage equality advocate and actor George Takei, and pro-life protester Norma McCorvey.

These stories prove that the Constitution is not self-enforcing and depends upon citizens for its support. As Judge Learned Hand emphasized during World War II: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

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The Words We Live By - Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution


CATO InstituteExciting, Illuminating Book The Words We Live By Makes the Constitution Come Alive
By Nat Hentoff

The arrival in August of an updated, expanded edition of Linda Monk’s book, The Words We Live By (Hachette Books), reminded me of my initial rush of enthusiasm when I first wrote about it in The Washington Post column I had at the time.

Monk subtitled her book “Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution,” but it is actually a swinging adventure story of how Americans came to define themselves as a nation through the struggle to keep the Constitution functioning as the guarantor of our most fundamental liberties.

Without exaggeration, I am convinced that this book should be taught in every classroom, and be on every citizen’s reading list as an essential reference manual for evaluating candidates in the upcoming 2016 elections. Read more…

What People Are Saying

“A wonderfully accessible yet deeply insightful guide to our Constitution which should be read and enjoyed by a wide audience.”

—Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian

“I have never before seen so clear an explanation of what’s in the Constitution and why. Monk has provided a service to the nation that should earn her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

—Nat Hentoff, Pulitzer Prize finalist and Senior Fellow, Cato Institute

“When I covered federal courts in Washington at the foot of Capitol Hill, I read The Words We Live By all the time. When I stopped covering the courts, I still read it all the time. Smart, informed, witty—just the way everyone wants to sound when discussing the Constitution.”

—Neely Tucker, Staff writer, Washington Post

“A book for ‘We the People’ of all ages—wonderfully simple, but never simplistic, brimming with profound and provocative ideas.”

—Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School

“Finally a book that presents all sides of constitutional issues.”

—Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and FOX News Channel Contributor

“This volume ought to be required reading for every American young and old.”

—Governor William Winter, Chairman Emeritus of the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation

“Linda Monk has given us a wonderful book, for students, teachers, voters, legislators, lawyers, activists, citizens and foreigners curious about how and why this Constitution has endured and thrived for so long. In simple language, with vivid examples, Monk looks at controversies old and new, at the Framers’ actions and intent, at the roles the Constitution plays in our daily lives and important contemporary debates. This book reminds us of our history and celebrates our unique version of a republican form of democracy.”

—Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

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