Perspectives on American Government opens with an introductory essay on American Political Development (APD) and the importance of historical context and development for understanding most aspects of contemporary American politics. The body of the book is organized in sixteen chapters covering the origins, participants, structures, institutions, and policy results of American government and politics. Students are not left to founder in esoteric original readings. Each chapter has an introductory essay and each reading has a headnote to insure that students know what they are reading and what they should be looking for in that reading. Each chapter presents six readings, always a mix of classics (Locke, Montesquieu, Madison, Tocqueville), political science standards (Key, Schattschneider, Lindblom), and the best of the recent APD literature (Skocpol, Skowronek, Smith, Mettler, Schickler).
American government texts generally do a good job of presenting an overview of what we know about all of the major topics treated in class – the Constitution, federalism, political participation, Congress, and much more – but students benefit greatly from a few well-chosen original readings to provide more depth to each chapter of the basic text. These readings, whether it is Locke on prerogative, Schattschneider on interest groups, or Skocpol and Williamson on the origins and goals of the Tea Party, give our students a better and a deeper sense of what political scientists know, how they found it out, and how they present it to others – scholars, teachers, students, and fellow citizens – for discussion, criticism, and revision.
Both of us have taught American Government for about thirty-five years and the readings that we offer in Perspectives are those that we have found work best in our own classes. In our classes and, we hope, in yours these readings open a range of fascinating questions for lecture, discussion, and debate. Finally, once you have had a chance to look at Perspectives, we would love to hear from you about your reactions to the book, about readings that you think might enrich future editions, and, ideally, about how the book worked for you in class.
All the best,
Cal and Dave,