In This Review

The House: The History of the House of Representatives
The House: The History of the House of Representatives
By Robert V. Remini
HarperCollins, 2006, 624 pp
Purchase

This disappointing book by one of the United States' most accomplished historians is an opportunity missed. Although Remini executes sketches of key personalities and set-piece descriptions of great debates with his customary flair, he largely neglects the three major topics that should concern a historian of the House of Representatives: politics, legislation, and the relationship between the House and the rest of the government. What did candidates running for the House do in 1790? How much did campaigns cost, and who funded them? How did that change as the franchise broadened? How did the political parties that began as factions in George Washington's administration turn into national organizations with vast powers of patronage and publicity? How did this development affect the makeup of the House and the behavior of its members? In writing laws, how has the behavior of the House altered over the centuries? Finally, many of the founders believed that the House would be the most powerful part of the federal government: it is closer to the people than its rivals, and it has the unique power to originate spending bills. Similar powers have made the House of Commons supreme in England, but the House of Representatives during most of its history has been less powerful than either the Senate or the White House. Why? No answers to these questions and no real discussion of these issues will be found in Remini's book. The House still awaits its historian.