Bowen’s history of the Constitutional Convention is a great read, and makes what at the time would have been endless debates nicely accessible. It breaks into two nearly even parts, where the first is a fairly chronological account of the first half, and the second instead goes topic-by-topic for the second half.

This was deliberate, and Bowen uses the adjournment of the Convention at the end of July as an opportunity to take a look at the overall condition of the states, and then picks up the by-topic narrative after reconvening on August 6. It makes for an interesting structure, and one that works out well, though I found myself enjoying the first half more (which shows my low tolerance for going into the nitty-gritty).

Naturally, there is also plenty of scene-setting, with the crises besetting the government under the Articles of Confederation leading to a convention to amend the Articles to make the new government less unwieldy and incapable. A whole new constitution was not part of the original program, but speedily became its object once in session. At the end, Bowen naturally also goes into the process of ratification, and the political fighting in the various states over the new Constitution. This part is a bit of a whirlwind in comparison, but still takes up three chapters.

This is very much a readable history, and quite good at its job. Bowen doesn’t try for any real ‘re-interpretations’, but works with the exiting materials, and references to the notes and letters around the Convention, and spends a lot of effort to set the scene and get the atmosphere down. Instead long analyses of arguments pro and con, there is reference to the weather, to the physical world around the delegates from the states, to help understand the conditions they were working in. It does a great job as a look into the place and time, and leaves the hair-splitting to much dryer reads.