Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations

Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations

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by Craig Nelson
     
 

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A fresh new look at the Enlightenment intellectual who became the most controversial of America's founding fathers

Despite his being a founder of both the United States and the French Republic, the creator of the phrase "United States of America," and the author of Common Sense, Thomas Paine is the least well known of America's founding fathers.…  See more details below

Overview

A fresh new look at the Enlightenment intellectual who became the most controversial of America's founding fathers

Despite his being a founder of both the United States and the French Republic, the creator of the phrase "United States of America," and the author of Common Sense, Thomas Paine is the least well known of America's founding fathers. This edifying biography by Craig Nelson traces Paine's path from his years as a London mechanic, through his emergence as the voice of revolutionary fervor on two continents, to his final days in the throes of dementia. By acquainting us as never before with this complex and combative genius, Nelson rescues a giant from obscurity-and gives us a fascinating work of history.

Editorial Reviews

"Poor Tom Paine! There he lies; nobody laughs and nobody cries; where he has gone or how he fares; nobody knows and nobody cares." This 19th-century street ditty captures the obscurity of America's least known Founding Father. The author of Common Sense and other influential pamphlets helped spark the American Revolution and the upheaval in France, but earned no lasting fame. Indeed, history buff Theodore Roosevelt dismissed Paine (1737-1809) as "a dirty little atheist," and John Adams cast him off as "a disastrous meteor." Craig Nelson's major biography brings Paine alive in a new way. As Joseph J. Ellis noted, "This is the first book to recover him in his own electrical style...with all the flaws and foibles flaming away amidst the greatness."
Publishers Weekly
Enlightenment thinker Thomas Paine would be pleased with this brisk, intellectually sophisticated study of his life. Nelson (The First Heroes) breezes through Paine's first 37 years, his attention tuned to 1774, when Paine moved from England to Philadelphia, bearing glowing letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. It was there that "his real life story would begin" with the writing of the hugely influential Common Sense, which attacked the divine right of kings and advocated American independence. Nelson follows Paine as he heads to Europe in 1787, and charts Paine's ambiguous relationship with the French Revolution. During the Reign of Terror, Paine got to work on The Age of Reason, and Nelson insists that, though his subject has been called an atheist, this work advocated 18th-century deism and was right in step with "mainstream Anglo-American religious discourse" of the era. Nelson concludes with a brief, intriguing discussion of Paine's legacy in the United States. The descriptions of Paine birthday galas in New York and Philadelphia 20 years after his 1809 death are fascinating in fact, an entire chapter could have been devoted to Paine's influence in the Jacksonian era. This volume won't replace Eric Foner's classic Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, but it's a welcome addition. (Sept. 25) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book reflects the resurgence of interest in one of the most neglected and controversial Americans in the era of the Founding Fathers. Independent historian Nelson (The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid) includes interesting excursions into topics like medicine, the publishing industry, and, most especially, the intellectual movement that we call the Enlightenment. With a storyteller's gift for the dramatic, Nelson begins with the furtive digging up of Paine's body in a remote American location and its return to England, and he ends with a discussion of the dispersal of Paine's body parts and the recent campaign to locate and reassemble them. Though reliable in its general picture of Paine and his time period, the book is marred by numerous small mistakes. For example, Nelson errs in stating that Henry Clinton was part of the British peace commission sent to America in the spring of 1778, and he mentions that British spy William Bancroft worked in Paris during the American Revolution (that was Edward Bancroft). This book will nonetheless make a good companion piece to Harvey J. Kaye's Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. Recommended for all public libraries. Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Craig Nelson's lovely new biography provides cogent reasons why the man who wrote Common Sense has often been neglected by the cheerleaders for the American Revolution."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A rewarding new biography . . . as much a primer on the Enlightenment as it is the story of the stay-maker from Thetford-and all the better for it."
-The New Yorker

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101201787
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/04/2007
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
1,267,059
File size:
903 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

"Thomas Paine has had many biographers, but this is the first book to recover him in his own electrical style. Nelson's account brings Paine to life with all the flaws and foibles flaming away amidst the greatness. The story is poignant and the prose is incandescent."
---Joseph J. Ellis, author, most recently, of His Excellency: George Washington
From the Publisher
"Craig Nelson's lovely new biography provides cogent reasons why the man who wrote Common Sense has often been neglected by the cheerleaders for the American Revolution."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A rewarding new biography . . . as much a primer on the Enlightenment as it is the story of the stay-maker from Thetford-and all the better for it."
-The New Yorker

Meet the Author

Craig Nelson is the author of four previous books, including The First Heroes and Let's Get Lost. His writings have appeared in Salon, The New England Review, Blender, Genre, and a host of other publications. He was an editor at HarperCollins, Hyperion, and Random House for almost twenty years and has been profiled by Variety, Interview, Manhattan, Inc., and Time Out.

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