Book Review: American Scripture by Pauline Maier

American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

This is the first book review I have for my school books this semester in college. It’s definitely a dense nonfiction read, and one I had mixed feelings about more because of the writing than the content itself, which is very in-depth. So let’s go.

Release: 1997

Page Count: 336

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Maier, a professor of American History, sets out in this book to tell the real story of the making of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the remaking of it into the respected icon it is today.

Review:

It seems like a while since I’ve reviewed a non-fiction book, especially one that is as dense as this despite it being written supposedly for a common reader (as Maier herself says). I did enjoy the deep-dive into the social context around the Declaration, as well as the steps the Continental Congress took to create the document including its inspirations. Saying that, because Maier seems to want as many primary sources and quotes as possible, the book is such a slow read. In just one paragraph of page 76 (and I just randomly opened to a page), there are four quotes. I recall one paragraph having at least ten quotes. Because of the high level of quotes and Maier proving her point multiple times, I struggled to get through this book.

However, I do want to focus on some of the interesting things I learned about in this book, because I feel like I had little knowledge going in of the facts around the formation of the Declaration (besides from watching the musical “1776” from 1972). For example, I did not know that the Declaration was based on legal precedence of the time, like the Declaration of Rights of 1689 in England, which threw the “tyrannical” James II off the throne and placed William on instead. I also had no idea how many small Declaration of Independences were written by specific states, making the one Declaration of Independence we think of not that extraordinary.

It was also interesting to see the writing process of the Declaration play out, which Jefferson drafted from the inspiration of others, and then the Continental Congress edited it massively. Maier breaks down not only the different editing, but also the reasons for specific language being used like “inherent and inalienable rights” becoming “certain inalienable rights” (144).

It is clear Maier knows her history well, only rarely turning to secondary sources and mostly focusing on the writings of the people who lived during the time. While this helped to prove her points, as I said earlier it also makes it feel like a dull read.

I honestly think if she had cut back on primary sources to prove her points over and over again and instead focused a bit more on the narrative, I would have found the book more engaging. As a history student, I feel like I am more inclined to historical details in general and even I struggled with her choices in writing.

Saying that, if you are interested in learning more about the Declaration of Independence or that era, I could easily recommend this book, as it is filled with details absent from most history books. It is also quite short, at only 215 pages not including endnotes and appendixes.

Does this book look interesting to you? Have you read it for school? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

5 thoughts on “Book Review: American Scripture by Pauline Maier

  1. Interesting review! It does sound like there are too many quotes, I remember reading a history book (I forget which one) which had an off-putting number of Churchill quotes. The Declaration of Independence is not a topic I know much about, as in the UK we’re not taught about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, too many quotes can really bog down a book. And I don’t think most American kids are taught about Declaration of Independence either, so at least you not knowing much about it makes sense. I didn’t know half the stuff talked about in this book either.

      Liked by 1 person

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