Thursday, May 14, 2009

Book Review: The 5000 Year Leap

Quite possibly the best book I have ever read on the U. S. Constitution and what the Founders intended.

If I could only write one sentence about The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle That Changed the World by W. Cleon Skousen, that would be it. If I could add a second sentence, it would be, "The book is easy to understand and is intended as a High School text book." If you are looking for an easy to read book on the Constitution, this is it.

The 5000 Year Leap was written because Mr. Skousen wanted a book that, "…catalogue[d] the ingredients of the Founding Fathers phenomenal success formula so it would be less complex and easier to digest." This combined with recognition of mistakes elected representatives were making inspired the book. It is written as a high school text book, and does a very good job of explaining the fundamentals of our government. Mr. Skousen came up with 28 principles that represented what the Founders were trying to accomplish.

Mr. Skousen shows a deep understanding of the Constitution. For example, under the chapter The 17th Principle: Checks and Balances, there is a complete list of checks and balances found in the U.S. Constitution. There are 18 of them.

The book does not specifically attack one party or another. I am not sure the Republican or Democratic Parties are mentioned at all in this book. Right and Left are mentioned, but not in the concept of Conservatism vs. Liberalism. Mr. Skousen uses these terms as he claims the founders would have understood them. According the political theory at the time of the Constitution, government ranged from the "left" or complete tyranny imposed by a monarchy to the "right" or absolute anarchy with no government at all. The founders intention was to get the United States government in the exact center of this political spectrum. Our founders thought of our government as a three headed eagle, with the Judiciary, the Legislative, and the Executive branches all being represented by one head of the eagle. In addition, one wing represented the "Problem Solving Wing" or what government could do with unlimited funds. The other wing represented "The Conservation Wing" or the wing responsible for making the best use of all funds available. If both these wings work together, the eagle flies straight and doesn't lean towards tyranny or anarchy.

The 5000 Year Leap quotes the founders extensively. If you read the book with an eye to today's politics, it is easy to see that our elected officials (Republican and Democratic alike) have either forgotten the lessons listed here, or never knew them. Some of the chapters may cause you to question your own political beliefs and what you have thought of the U.S. Constitution. If you don't believe Mr. Skousen, it is easy to follow his footnotes to do your own homework and make your own decisions.

I would beg anyone with a high school age student to buy The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle That Changed the World and ask them to read it. Every voter should read this book before they head to the next ballot box. Every elected official should be forced to read this before being sworn into office. If you only buy one book that I review on this website, this is the book.


If you like this post, you may also like:

Book Review: Glenn Beck's Common Sense

The Repugnant Nature of the Minimum Wage

Of Government and Men: Introduction


the anonymous guy said...


Skousen has some pretty awesome ideas about the interactions of Moroni, "pre-existence," Satan, and cooperation among communists, capitalists, republicans and democrats in a big fat conspiracy to form a one-world government under 94 year old David Rockefeller.

Who's crazier--this guy or Ted Nugent or the Tea Partyers?

Andy D said...

I am interested in your comments on this Anon. What did you think of the book?

Rebecca said...

Lots of fun news considering our ole pal Murtha.


the anonymous guy said...

This seems to be Skouson's least tin-foil-hat book, being designed for the masses. But that's not saying much. It's still bizarre.

A few examples:

Skouson thinks America is basically God's unique divine agent in all of history.

Skouson claims biblical Israel was a representative democracy. OMG.

Skouson claims that the only crime punishable by death in ancient Israel was murder (when in fact homosexuality, disobeying a parent, being a non-virginal bride, working on the sabbath, etc. were also punishable by death)

Skouson briefly quotes Ben Franklin on the virtues of marriage, yet the quote in its larger context is from a passage on how to select a good mistress. Nice.

Skouson thinks the Ten Commandments are the basis of the U.S. Constitution (except when he claims that it's based on Franklin's Five Principles) and thinks we should have a national "sabbath day" to "study God's Word" (which isn't even what the sabbath is for according to the bible. In the bible, the Sabbath is for rest).

Skouson believes in American Manifest Destiny.

Etc. etc.

I'm Christian, and I don't like Christians trying to turn this country into a Christian theocracy. So I also oppose Mormons when they try their own version. But I guess, according to Skouson, this puts me on the side of the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Communist party, Satan, Jews, big corporations, and, of course, our great, powerful, one-world Bilderberg leader, David Rockefeller.

Andy, maybe you should get your book recommendations from someone a little more stable than this guy.

Andy D said...

First, I didn't get this book recommendation from Glenn Beck. However, I did read Glenn Becks last nonfiction work and thought it was very interesting.

Second, I don't remember him arguing for a Christian society in The 5000 Year Leap. He does point out a lot of the religious (and non-religious background of the founders). I don't remember him arguing for a Federally recognized sabbath either...

I really get annoyed when people accuse Christians of trying to turn this country into a Theocracy. Skousen doesn't argue for that in his book. He does point out that all religions should be treated equal by the federal government.

As a Christian, I do believe God has given his blessing to this nation. How we keep that blessing, and how we act with it is our own choice.

pack04 said...

two questions for you anonymous guys:
Who is on your list of approved authors?

I am going to read The Federalist Papers. Do Hamilton, Jay and Madison pass your requirements for authors that I can read and learn from?

pack04 said...

anonymous guys you should give a quote or a footnote or a reference citation when you try to pass somebody else's work off as your own. Unless of course your name is Richard Packham. Your own words?You changed it some but it is close enough that my history teacher wife would fail you and report you for cheating.

the anonymous guy said...

No, Skousen doesn't want a Christian theocracy.

He wants a Mormon one.

I oppose either one.

Andy D said...

I will have to check my book again, but I don't remember "Mormon" appearing anywhere in the book. However, I will check and get back to you.

Pack brings up a few interesting points. Anon, who would you encourage us to read regarding the constitution? And did you read this book, or are you objecting to my review without having actually read the book?

the anonymous guy said...

Obviously, I have the highest regard for this book and have spent hours reading it and re-reading it. Honestly, it's worth every minute of study I've put into it.

My biblical knowledge alone has really grown and changed.

After Skousen, I might read Larry Tribe's American Constitutional Law.

Andy D said...

I sense the sarcasm, you obviously haven't read any of the book you are trying to trash. I am also curious if you admit to simply copying another person's critique of this book...

I looked up the book you reference, and it does look like an in depth look at the Constitution. However, I am looking for something written so that everyone can understand it. I haven't looked at the one you referenced, but do you believe it would be easily understood by a high school student?

the anonymous guy said...

Bros, is there anything inaccurate in my critique of the book?

Or are you pissed b/c I could research the book so fast?

I'll quickly take back anything I wrote that's incorrect.


Andy D said...

First, did you copy some one else's work to critique this?

Second, some of these critique's don't seem to have anything to do with this book, and some of the critiques are wrong.

I am not pissed at all. I am simply confused as to why you are so upset over a book review, and why you are complaining about some things that aren't in this book.

the anonymous guy said...

Andy: I'm wrong about the book? I've already asked you to show me where I'm wrong and I'll recant.

But I'm still waiting.


And you may be confusing "copying" with "research." I made some very specific claims against the book you reviewed here. If they are wrong, I'll recant them. But they seem to be true.

My wife thinks I should watch the movie "Legally Blonde II" with my buddies. But I feel fairly confident of my ability a) to know what it's about and b) to know that it's not worth 95 minutes of my time to sit down and watch it. I have educated opinions and conclusions about the movie, but I have never watched the movie. Am I "copying" or am I well-informed?

In any case, nobody on here seems to care that your book has all kinds of wacky, factually incorrect stuff in it. But a couple of you are all breathless that I'm not the only one pointing this stuff out...

Andy D said...

First, when you do research you cite your material. When you copy, you attempt to pass someone else’s critique’s off as your own. Your critique’s of this book fall into the copy or plagiarized area, not the research area. If you wish to claim them as research, then give credit to your sources.

Second, “your critiques” fall into two areas: the author and the book. I am not that familiar with Mr. Skousen. What little I have read about him is very interesting. I know enough about our Constitution and about American History to know that this book is consistent with other books and articles I have read on the U.S. Constitution and the Founding Fathers.

You state the author thinks America is basically God’s unique divine agent in all of history. I don’t believe he made that exact claim. Many of the Founders believed our country had God’s direct influence in its shaping. Many people since them have acknowledged the same thing. That does not mean we always do the Lord’s bidding. It does seem that He has had a direct interest and hand in our development. I believe most of the references to God in this book are more along this line. Washington said the following in his first inaugural address:

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.

You state that Mr. Skousen, “…claims biblical Israel was a representative democracy. OMG.” Mr. Skousen cites the Bible when discussing how the founders viewed the government at the time of Moses. The tribes under Moses were organized into small manageable units. Every grouping would elect a leader. These leaders would be grouped together and a leader elected among them. From this second tier of leaders, another group of leaders would be elected. Mr. Skousen gives the exact numbers in the book, but he is quoting the Bible and our Founders understanding if it. He is also only referencing ancient Israel. I don’t see anything wrong or incorrect with his claims.

These are just your first two claims. If you want I will continue to address each of your claims and point out where they are wrong.

My point with this review is to state that The 5000 Year Leap is a great book to introduce high school students and the common man to our Constitution and the principles it was founded on. Anyone who wants more information should look for more in-depth books. I stand by my review and these comments.

the anonymous guy said...

Andy, you're hedging.


I say: Skousen claims that God holds the United States of America in unique favor and has given the U.S. a special, powerful role among all other other nations in all of history.

You say: Not exactly... well, maybe.


I say: Skousen portrays ancient Israel as a representative democracy. Skousen is wrong about this.

You say: Don't worry about what *Skousen* thinks about this. The *Founding Fathers* saw ancient Israel as some kind of democracy, and that's kinda historically true but I'm not going to put it that way...


Notice that my claims are either true or false. Yours? Not so much.

So before I take the time to answer what you've written, I'll wait until you actually go after my claims directly, with statements that either refute or affirm what I wrote.

(You could simply write "no, that is factually wrong" about my statements, but I'm guessing we both know why you won't write that.)

Anonymous said...

After reading this book I feel unable to trust the author. It all seems to be twisted and hand picked to make his points (a fine way to state opinions in a debate but not so great when stating it as fact). I'm a believer, yet this book was FAR TOO RELIGIOUS.

pack04 said...

I was interested by this book. The appeal of a simplistic look at the founding of our government got me.

I have read the first 25 pages or so. He uses a lot of quotes, which of course can be taken in or out of context. I have read quotes but the way that he presents them I guess you could say I take with a grain of salt. As I would with any other book that uses quotes like he does.

I have indeed found his writing very simplistic and easy to read. I like his explanation of the set up of our government and the very broad theory of how the checks and balances work.

Anonymous guy I have read the part that some of your critics are based on, I have not ready more than 25 pages so if more comes up later I do not know.
"Skouson thinks America is basically God's unique divine agent in all of history." I am not sure if I have read this yet or not. He does not say that directly but you can get the feeling that he is very proud and thinks very highly of our Constitution and he mentions the Bible so I guess you could make that leap.

"Skouson claims biblical Israel was a representative democracy."
If you read Exodus 18:13-26 it shows Moses being directed by Jethro as to how he should settle disputes. Is it a leap to get to that being a representative democracy? No. A small step? Yes.

The Israel, murder and death thing is referenced in the book with Numbers 35:31, that whole section is on murder. Does that mean there was not other sins to be punished by death, no because there are in other parts of the Bible, Leviticus 20. I understand that as a Christian. As an American I understand that homosexuality, working on Sunday, etc. are not actions or crimes that are punishable by death. Since this is found in a section titled "The Founders Note the Similarities Between Anglo-Saxon Common Law and the People's Law of Ancient Israel" I understood him to be saying the only crime punishable by death in Common Law and People's law was murder. I do understand how you and the other critics have disputed him on this. It is tough to say it could go either way.

That is all I've read so far.

Christina said...

I accidentally clicked onto 'Political Friends' today, thought, "hmmm...let me see what's happening here" (since I'm here already!)

Andy, I had seen this book on the Tenth Amendment Center site, right before you mentioned it on my blog, & had been thinking about checking it out anyway. Now I'm even more interested in doing so...

Washington made frequent references to God's intentions for, and interventions in, America. I happened to be reading his First Inaugural earlier today,(from which you quoted) - "...the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican...Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the
American people." Prior to this sentence, Washington speaks of the 'smiles of Heaven', so to me it looks like Heaven (God) is the one doing the entrusting.

Next sentence, Washington speaks of the 'benign parent of the human race', saying "that since he has been pleased to favour the American people...".

Andy D said...

Let’s see…

Anonymous Guy, I am not hedging. First you say “Skouson thinks America is basically God’s unique divine agent in all of history.” {misspelling in the original}. I don’t think he says that at all. However, when you change it to your second quote of America God holding the US in unique favor, I believe that is true. Many of the Founders (such as Washington and Adams) also felt it was true.

You say that Skousen portrays ancient Israel as a representative democracy. Skousen is quoting the biblical laws of ancient Israel as contained in the Old Testment. Skousen states that the founders studied this (Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus) when writing the Constitution. The government laid out in the Old Testament relied on solving problems at the local level. I feel this was the point Skousen was trying to make and not whether Israel was a democracy or not. To answer your claim plainly: I don’t believe Skousen asserts this. If he does, it is in passing and does not pertain to his larger point. As Pack says, the government laid out in the O.T. as quoted by Skousen is not that different from a Representative Democracy.

The biggest problem is that you are trying to argue claims and arguments in a book you have not read. You are relying on the arguments of others with blind faith that they are correct. I also find it interesting that you are obsessed with finding a “yes” or “no” to your answers while copying someone else’s critiques of the book…


I am not sure which quotes you feel were handpicked or twisted. What I read in The 5000 Year Leap was very consistent with what I have read from other authors such as David McCullough and Joseph Ellis regarding the founders.
Thank you for reading the book before criticizing it.


I hope you enjoy the book. I think your assessment so far is pretty accurate. I thought your responses were good for Anonymous guy, but didn’t think he would accept a “Go re-read what Pack wrote” response.


“Accidentally clicked on Political Friends…” I am hurt. Welcome back. I hope you read this book, and I would be interested in seeing a review of it on your site. You can pick it up pretty cheap and it is a quick read. I have two Washington books sitting on my bookshelf I am going to start reading soon. I hope you make it back for those discussions.

Christina said...

Sounds like a plan, I will be sure to get, read, & review 5000 Year Leap...

I also thought'The Politically Incorrect Guide to Understanding the Constitution'...or something like that, I forget the exact wording...looked pretty good. I'll be checking into that one soon also. As I start to really look into these different books, articles, the writings of Jefferson, etc. & actually read the Constitution, I am also seeing (or it seems like it, to me) that our government really is off base in ways, not what was originally intended in its entirety. What at one time may have sounded extreme to me, persons speaking of secession, now...well, I still need to learn alot more but I'm considering that there may really be a Constitutional basis for some of these thought trends.

Anyway, I've decided to start studying Constitutional law.

I'll keep an eye out for your George Washington book reviews...!

Anonymous said...

I'll start with welfare since it is more interesting and relevant to me as an attorney practicing in the area of Social Security disability. The author's analysis of welfare is quite flawed. Starting on p. 175 he talks about redistribution of wealth as being unconstitutional. As evidence for this he cites a US Supreme Court case from 1795. The selection he chose to quote would seem to support his point. The problem is that if you actually look up the case he cites, the author is obviously guilty of stripping all context from the quoted language. The case was actually about a provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution. It was dealt with by the US Supreme Court because it involved a land grant from the Indians to William Penn. Even if the case did stand for the proposition that welfare is unconstitutional, it would only be unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution, not the US Constitution. But even that is not a valid conclusion. The case dealt with taking real property without paying adequate compensation. It had nothing to do with welfare. These types of cases are analyzed under the "takings clause" of the US Constitution. Since the author is apparently a lawyer, I would have to assume that he was aware of this and simply elected to knowingly mislead people. He probably figured that nobody would take the time to look up the case he cited. When he wrote the book the Internet was not widely available. It is now, and you can read the case yourself right here:

Anonymous said...

To further his point, he also asserts that it was not until after 1936 that the Supreme Court began distorting the "general welfare" clause. However, he did not cite a single case where the US Supreme Court had held differently prior to this time. He did use the above mentioned case, but any reasoned reading of that case demonstrates that it does not stand for the proposition he says it does. I did not research the issue to look for US Supreme Court cases on welfare prior to 1936 because that could take a very long time. Since the author claims to have spent years researching this book, I would expect that if there were such cases, he would have cited them. Lawyers often use a string cite to show that there are many cases supporting their argument. Since the author did not, this is a pretty strong indication to me that there aren't any such case. To me, it isn't really that strange that the "general welfare" clause wasn't addressed by the US Supreme Court until 1936. After all, the US Supreme Court did not address whether the right to bear arms is an individual right until just last year.

Actually, I just went and look up the Butler case from 1936 that the author cites as the US Supreme Court's starting point for distorting the "general welfare" clause. You can read it too: The Court explicitly states that they had never before addressed the issue of the "general welfare" clause. The author is very misleading and even intellectually dishonest in asserting that they had previously held otherwise. In today's legal system, if the author were to submit a brief to any court with the kinds of citations he provides in this book, he would likely be held in contempt, sanctioned, and disbarred for violating his duty of candor to the tribunal. Of course, you can publish anything you want where there is no such duty to the public.

The introduction - p. 57 can be summed up as the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. The author is a very poor writer. The book is extremely difficult to read. It doesn't flow at all. The author makes statements but provides no evidence to back them up. For example, in dealing with principle #1, the author states that one of the Founders' favorite authors was Cicero. He offers nothing to support this assertion but then goes on to fill the chapter with block quotes from Cicero. There is a big gap in the author's analysis/logic. Alternatively, as explained above, he makes up or misrepresents evidence to support his positions.

With the numerous faults I have found in reading so little of this book, I can't possibly justify investing the time to finish the rest of it. I am sure that it is filled with many other errors, but the ones I have already found have so severely limited the author's credibility that I have no interest in reading any further. You can't believe everything you read, even if it is endorsed by Glenn Beck.

Alex said...

Lets address this welfare claim in a more straight forward manner, here's the paragraph in the book,

"In earlier years the American courts held that the expropriating of property to transfer to other citizens was unlawful, being completely outside the constitutional power delegated to the government. It was not until after 1936 (the Butler case) that the Supreme Court began arbitrarily distorting the meaning of the "general welfare" clause to permit the distribution of federal bounties as a demonstration of "concern" for the poor and the needy. Before that time, this practice was prohibited. The Supreme Court had declared:
"... The preservation of property, then, is a primary object of the social compact... The legislature, therefore, had no authority to make an act divesting one citizen of his freehold... (2 Dall 304, 310 [Pa. 1795]).""

Now you say that redistribution of property without just compensation is not related to welfare. that's what welfare is. You can argue this point all you want but it is the truth. Also, Supreme Court cases represent the national Constitution. So while this was an issue of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the precedent this case establishes pertains to the U.S. Constitution. And your point about this book being difficult to read is an opinion, mind you, you're the only person who I have ever who has this opinion (thankfully, because this is a wonderful book).

It seems to me you (anonymous) have some personal vendetta against the author, either that or you're just trying to get attention. This book accurately depicts the intention of the Constitution and how it is meant to be interpreted, and if it does not at some point, it seems the author faithfully attempts to decipher the founders' intentions.

Alex said...

To add to that, you pulled the author's words out of context. When he says, "It was not until after 1936 (the Butler case) that the Supreme Court began arbitrarily distorting the meaning of the "general welfare" clause...", he's not implying the government had ruled in favor or against any welfare case in the past, he's simply saying that this was the first time the this is the first time that they ruled with distortion, whether it was the first time they made a ruling or not is not in question, nor does the author imply they had.

Christina said...

"...the Supreme Court began arbitrarily distorting the meaning of the "general welfare" clause to permit the distribution of federal bounties."

Just wondering, exactly what are federal bounties? Does this term fall into the same category as "...divesting one citizen of his freehold..." (2 Dall 304, 310 [Pa. 1795]).

Anonymous said...

It is amazing to me how people spend more time criticizing this book and not realizing some fundamental values that it tries to display to the reader about our founding fathers. Yes they were men but they were incredibly intelligent and knew more then than we do today about human nature. They also knew about self sacrifice which seems to be lost to most of us nowadays...