Jeremy D. Bailey and Stephen Wirls reflect on Mark Landy and Sidney M. Milkis’ American Government textbook, now in its third edition
In their textbook, American Government: Enduring Principles, Critical Choices, Mark Landy and Sidney M. Milkis bring the study of American politics and government alive by presenting American politics as a dramatic narrative of conflict and change. This textbook adopts an American political development approach in order to show how the past, present, and visions of the future interact to shape governing institutions and political forces. There is a strong emphasis on the role of ideas. Two key political development principles – path dependency and critical choice – are central to explaining how and why the past affects the present and future. In its third edition, each chapter of this textbook begins with an opening vignette that epitomizes the key themes of the chapter. The book’s developmental approach does not diminish the attention it gives to current matters but it does provide a richer context for the appreciation and understanding of the whole gamut of attitudes, behaviors, organizational activities, and institutional relationships that comprise American political and governmental life.
In his review of this new edition of the American Government textbook, Jeremy D. Bailey (University of Houston) explains that he assigns this volume to his students year after year because it “does not insult” them; rather “it challenges students with its comparatively dense writing.” More importantly, he writes, this book utilizes a historical orientation to present the subject of American politics. That historical context, Bailey argues, is increasingly important in a world where even undergraduate Honors students often leave university unable “to distinguish the New Deal from the Great Society, the Revolution of 1800 from Jacksonian America, the War of 1812 from the Cold War.” By assigning Landy and Milkis’ textbook, Bailey believes he is able to provide his students with a more complete understanding of American political development.
Similarly, in his review, Stephen Wirls (Rhodes College) emphasizes American Government‘s historical approach, while also praising this new edition’s redesign to accommodate a topical course structure. As Wirls points out, Landy and Milkis’ textbook is now organized thematically, beginning with a discussion of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution’s preamble, and then moving on to chapters on federalism, political economy, and each of the major institutions (including bureaucracy and political parties). And while Wirls expresses some concern about the book’s treatment of the interstate commerce clause (“Much on this topic can be found in the book, but it is dispersed.”) and the polarization of contemporary political parties, he also argues that this book is generally a good and thorough read, one that”present[s] important and challenging ideas and arguments in prose that is nuanced but lucid, jargon-free, and pleasant in cadence and variety.” “If I were nearer the beginning of my teaching career,” he writes, “I would design or redesign my course around this unique and excellent text.”
For the full reviews by Bailey and Wirls, see American Government textbook_reviews.
American Government: Enduring Principles, Critical Choices, 3rd Edition, is available for purchase through the Cambridge University Press website.