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The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Donald Ritchie

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Book Description

10 Jun 2010
Many scholars believe that the framers of the Constitution intended Congress to be the preeminent branch of government. Indeed, no other legislature in the world approaches its power. Yet most Americans have only a murky idea of how it works. In The U.S. Congress, Donald A. Ritchie, a congressional historian for more than thirty years, takes readers on a fascinating, behind-the-scenes tour of Capitol Hill-pointing out the key players, explaining their behavior, and translating parliamentary language into plain English. No mere civics lesson, this eye-opening book provides an insider's perspective on Congress, matched with a professional historian's analytical insight. After a swift survey of the creation of Congress by the constitutional convention, he begins to unscrew the nuts and pull out the bolts. What is it like to campaign for congress? To attract large donors? To enter either house with no seniority? He answers these questions and more, explaining committee assignments (and committee work), the role of staffers and lobbyists, floor proceedings, parliamentary rules, and coalition building. Ritchie explores the great effort put into constituent service-as representatives and senators respond to requests from groups and individuals-as well as media relations and news coverage. He also explores how the grand concepts we all know from civics class-checks and balances, advise and consent, congressional oversight-work in practice, in an age of strong presidents and a muscular Senate minority (no matter which party is in that position). In this sparkling addition to Oxford's Very Short Introduction series, Donald Ritchie moves beyond the cynicism and the platitudes to provide a gem of a portrait of how Congress really works. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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"This is a lively, comprehensive and knowing guide to the Congress that leaves nothing out. With clarity and good humor, Donald Ritchie explains how Congress works in a way I never thought possible. His book should be read by every citizen, by every journalist, and even by every member of the Congress."--Roger Mudd, former CBS News Congressional correspondent"This volume delivers an elegant, informative, and entertaining tour of the legislative branch. It manages to cover an impressive amount of ground with the benefit of smart organization, economical prose, and an insider's eye for what is interesting and important. In short, it is the kind of book diligent citizens should read."--Paul Charles Milazzo, Associate Professor of History, Ohio University

About the Author

Donald A. Ritchie is Historian of the U.S. Senate. His books include Our Constitution; The Oxford Guide to the United States Government; Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents; Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps; and Electing FDR: The New DealCampaign of 1932.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Informative and Concise Introduction to the U.S. Congress 28 Aug 2010
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The government of the United States is divided into three branches - legislative, executive and judiciary. These branches are represented by Congress, the President and the Supreme Court. Even though in the public's mind the executive branch might appear to be the most important and powerful, it is the legislative branch to which the U.S. Constitution assigns the most important role. This stems from the idea that this is by far the most representative of all the branches of the federal government, and in some sense comes closest to reflecting the actual popular will. In light of that, anyone who is interested in understanding American domestic politics needs to know what exactly the role of Congress is, both as it is spelled out in the Constitution as well as how it operates in practice.

No single book can do justice to the entire history and its complexity of such an important subject, but this very short introduction provides the reader with a very good first step toward that end. The book tries to present an impartial view of the U.S. Congress by presenting its history and the evolving role that it has played in U.S. domestic policy. The book presents many vignettes and anecdotes that illustrate some of the more interesting themes. A lot of space is dedicated to the way that Congress operates in practice as opposed to its purely legal status within the federal government. In this respect, this is a very valuable book even for those who think they understand the operation of Congress fairly well from their civics classes. The book also dispels certain misconceptions that have been entrenched about workings of Congress. Another interesting aspect of this book concerns the comparisons between the U.S. Congress and a few other parliamentary bodies around the world, and the British Parliament in particular. Overall this is a very well organized book that provides an interesting read, and a useful primer on one of the most important political institutions in the world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough, Short Examination 24 Mar 2013
By Edwin C. Pauzer - Published on
The U.S. Congress.

The very title draws consternation, criticism and confusion to the average American--especially to the average American. They are lost in explaining how it works from committees, to floor votes, to impeachment, to filibusters, to lobbying and backroom deals.

This book explains it.

It starts with the history of both houses and takes us through modern day, explaining the changes, the scandals, its heroes and villains, and the ever-changing rules of the Senate which change so often they can bring the operation of government to a standstill, and exasperate the most action-oriented senator. It explains what few people know right now--why Congress is in a furor that the White House is closed to visitors through sequestration. It also reveals how many constitutional amendments were proposed and how many were passed vs. how few reached ratification.

The book would be a thorough civics lesson for the high school student if it wasn't written at a college graduate level. It is pocket-sized so it is an ideal read on the business trip, vacation, or the commute.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Straight-forward and Brilliant 24 Aug 2012
By Richard A. Arenberg - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Anyone seeking to understand the Congress needs to read Donald Ritchie's excellent book. There is no wasted fluff. This book explains and illuminates. Great job by a real insider. If you never read any other book about Congress- read this one.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 14 Jan 2014
By Kenneth Winfield - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Arrived quickly in perfect condition, book is very well made. It is a highly informative yet brief summarization of the inner workings of Congress, and I am very pleased with it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Primer! 26 Aug 2013
By Tim O'Brien - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Had high school students read this before their study of the Congress. Established a very solid foundation for further study. Allowed the class to take a much more in depth look at the Congress.
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