2015 Danielle Allen, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (Liveright/W.W. Norton)

Our Declaration is an unconventional book, a very close reading of the Declaration of Independence, sometimes word by word, with attention even to punctuation and capitalization. It is a book of learned ideas conveyed in luminous prose, with a sure arc, and glistening with vividness, clarity, empathy, narrative power, and explanatory force. Allen is a scholar and a teacher, and she wrote Our Declaration for other scholars and teachers, as well as for a considerably larger readership, including both “the sophisticate and the novice,” without any diminishment of nuance and complexity. Scholars specializing in the history of the early American republic will learn from this book; so will readers with no training in any era or area of history.

Now a professor at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, and soon to join the faculty at Harvard University, Allen wrote Our Declaration after teaching the document to undergraduates at the University of Chicago and to economically struggling adults in night-school. To all of these readers, Allen speaks directly, as a learned mentor and a friend. As a woman, and as an African American woman, in this historical moment of justified pessimism regarding the workings of equality in the United States, Allen shows confidence in this founding document that is all at once stunning, intriguing, and convincing.