... a marvel of erudition ... That might not sound an immediately appealing subject, but Colley uses her constitutions to explore war and diplomacy, mass literacy and high finance, imperial ambition and national identity ... Where did all these constitutions come from? Most historians emphasise literacy and liberty, seeing constitutions as the product of high-minded, slightly bloodless political salons. Colley’s approach is more imaginative ... All this might sound a bit esoteric, but Colley’s book has plenty of memorably colourful details ... fascinating.
... brilliant ... In this compelling study of constitutions produced around the world between the mid-18th century and the outbreak of the first world war, [Colley] upends the familiar version of history at every turn ... There is much more going on here than a level-headed reassessment of the realpolitik that sits behind the evolution of liberalism and democracy. By weaving together warfare and 'lawfare', The Gun, the Ship and the Pen draws attention to a perennial problem in the study of citizenship: who is in, and who is left out ... As with all great history books, the big picture is here, but so is the telling detail, the astute comparison, the arresting and memorable turn of phrase, the suggestive moral for our own times. There are some amazing discoveries ... Fresh insights are suggested for pivotal moments ... A superb retelling of the past, The Gun, the Ship and the Pen will surely make us rethink our present and future.
... a wide-ranging, beautifully written global history ... One of the great strengths of Colley’s book is her focus on experiments that occurred outside Euro-America ... in her willingness to confront these authoritarian experiments, Colley refuses to idealize constitutions. She describes failures as well as successes ... Colley’s narrative is rich, and she emphasizes the colorful characters who have contributed to constitution-making projects around the world. The authors of these documents are as diverse as the locales, including military men, to be sure, but also adventurers, philosophers, doctors, clerics, explorers and revolutionaries. What unites them is an enduring faith in the written word and its capacity to bring forth a stable system of government. Americans have always taken this for granted but have much to learn from looking back at how similar projects have been imagined in the rest of the world.