Tom Paine: A Political Life

Overview

"More than any other public figure of the eighteenth century, Tom Paine 1737-1809 strikes our times like a trumpet blast from a distant world." So begins John Keane's magnificent biography of one of democracy's greatest champions, a man whose familiarity to us is partly traceable to his own stupendous achievements. Coming from humble beginnings in Thetford, England, Paine later bred intense public excitement with his every move. Among friends and enemies alike, he earned a reputation as the greatest political figure of his day and the author of
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Tom Paine: A Political Life

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Overview

"More than any other public figure of the eighteenth century, Tom Paine 1737-1809 strikes our times like a trumpet blast from a distant world." So begins John Keane's magnificent biography of one of democracy's greatest champions, a man whose familiarity to us is partly traceable to his own stupendous achievements. Coming from humble beginnings in Thetford, England, Paine later bred intense public excitement with his every move. Among friends and enemies alike, he earned a reputation as the greatest political figure of his day and the author of the eighteenth century's three bestselling books. Variously employed in England as a corset maker, ship's hand, Methodist lay preacher, exciseman, and writer who dabbled in public affairs, he later became the key pamphleteer in the American Revolution and author of Common Sense, an intellectual cornerstone of American democracy. In Britain, his Rights of Man frightened the establishment. Paine was also twice invited to France, where he helped draft the 1793 constitution, narrowly escaped the guillotine during the Terror, and wrote the most explosive modern plea for secularism, The Age of Reason. Setting his compelling narrative against a vivid social backdrop, John Keane melds together the public and private sides of Paine's life in a remarkable piece of scholarship, which is also thrilling to read. Meticulously researched and drawing on newly available material from the United States and Europe, this is the definitive biography of a man whose life and work have an uncanny resonance for our times.

Meticulously researched and including new material which reevaluates his pivotal importance in the development of democracy, this outstanding biography of Thomas Paine reveals a life riddled with tensions, discoveries, surprises, and spectacular achievements and failures. Illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
English-born radical journalist Thomas Paine, who in 1774 immigrated to America, where his pamphlets helped spark the Revolution, was a world citizen who preached the abolition of despotic regimes. A staunch opponent of slavery, Paine (1737-1809) also spoke of Native Americans as his ``brothers.'' This flesh-and-blood portrait charts a life pulsating with drama, surprises and narrow escapes, while also situating Paine's intellectual development in the context of his time. Keane, a professor of politics in London, gives us a generous, farsighted foe of hypocrisy and injustice who could also be conceited and dogmatic. In Paris, serving as a member of the National Convention, Paine was imprisoned (1793-94) and nearly guillotined during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. Upon his inglorious return to the U.S. in 1802, he was vilified as an atheist and monster. Paine slipped into depression, poverty and obscurity, but this gripping biography restores his luster and contemporary relevance. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal
We are doubly blessed. On the heels of Jack Fruchtman Jr.'s solid Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom (LJ 11/15/94) comes this richly detailed, more disciplined labor of scholarship and love, an exemplar of the rewards of a gargantuan effort at historical research. As Keane corrects all prior Paine biographers, Keane's bibliographic notes prove how thoroughly he has scoured every scrap of Paine scholarship from the beginning to now. It all enriches the already overloaded life of democracy's greatest propagandist with intriguing contextual detail that ranges from the simple conditions of life to data on the readership of Paine's writings. Keane warns against biographies that "tell us more about the biographer," but his "techniques of modest writing" commit few such excesses and make for entertaining edification. In short, buy it; it's definitive.-John Berry, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802139641
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/10/2003
  • Series: Grove Great Lives Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 1,030,298
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 1.42 (d)

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