Illustrated version of document is a labor of love

The Constitution of the United States of America, inscribed and illustrated by Sam Fink. Foreword by James A. Michener. New York: Random House. Unnumbered pages. $25. Sam Fink has inscribed and illustrated the entire Constitution in honor of its 200th anniversary, which is bearing down on us in 1987. His illustration is detailed and intricate, an example of what is sometimes called ``rapidograph art,'' that is, drawing done with India ink drafting pens, characterized by busy cross-hatching and a uniformity of line width. Such drawing is certainly time-consuming and just as clearly a labor of love.

The anniversary of the Constitution (Sept. 17, 1987) is probably a more important anniversary than the hyped-up bicentennial of Independence Day was in 1976. It is the Constitution, or, more accurately, our collective willingness to support and abide by it, that has distinguished the United States from scores of other republics started by revolution. It remains a curious document, noted for what it says and doesn't say, remarkable for its juxtaposition of powers, balancing the best and worst instincts a nd tendencies of the individual human beings who make up the government. Its fundamental wisdom is its understanding of human psychology and the use of and yearning for power.

Even though it is the core of the government, the root of our civil liberties, and the most distinguishing feature of our entire nation, the Constitution remains little understood by most Americans. High schools teach it sporadically and superficially, and colleges remand it to the law schools. Teachers have always had a problem making the document appear interesting. And to correct this problem, Fink's book may prove a useful tool.

The various articles, sections, and amendments are made to come alive, as much as is possible with illustration. Useful historical notes and curious obiter dictums decorate the pages as well. Soldiers, statesmen, patriots, presidents, and justices pop up to add their presences and comments. The illustration is lively but still distinguished enough to appear to honor the document rather than make light of it.

Fink's draftsmanship has a sincere pleasantness to it, and his pen-and-ink efforts have been herculean. His lettering is crisp and clear, showing a real love for the words themselves. As the Constitution's anniversary nears, his book should be used to add to an understanding of the document, to make the power, the intelligence, and the bravery behind the words apparent to more Americans.

Jeff Danziger is the Monitor's cartoonist.

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