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The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine Hardcover – September 29, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (September 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582345023
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345024
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,104,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

These are the times that try men's... bones? In this quixotic, mischievous and often hilarious work, Collins (Sixpence House) traces the bizarre story of Thomas Paine's remains through nearly two centuries of American and English history. After Paine's death in 1809, the iconoclastic reformer was refused burial in any Christian cemetery and was laid to rest ignominiously on his New York farm with only six people in attendance. Ten years later, a follower exhumed the remains and took them to England, where they were passed about for decades while various individuals harvested this or that relic for their private collections. More than a history of Paine's body, Collins offers an entertaining and compelling investigation of his legacy; Paine's example continued to animate all kinds of reformers throughout the 19th century, from feminists and spiritualists to phrenologists and physicians. Indeed, Paine's artifacts had a kind of Forrest Gump quality, bumping into many of the celebrated causes, writers and agitators of the day. Part travelogue, part memoir and part historical mystery, this book reads like a wry, witty novel and offers a delicious twist at the end. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Despite the popularity of his revolutionary essay Common Sense, Paine was scorned as a rebel constantly searching for a cause. When he died in 1809, no church would bury him in its cemetery, leaving his remains to be interred on his own farm. A few years later, William Cobbett, an Englishman and revolutionary in his own right, dug up the body with plans to bury it beneath a monument to be built in London. That never happened. Over the next century, those who were most influenced by his writings sought to give him a proper burial, but ultimately his remains were lost. Some names, like Thomas Edison, will be familiar. Others, like Dr. Foote, a self-help author, will not be, but provide interesting color. Paines spirit eventually influenced a number of movements, touching on everything from feminism to the Thirteen Club (its sole function–mocking every superstition imaginable). The author does a great job of tying disparate threads together and leading them back to Paine. He intersperses the history with travel narratives detailing his own search for the remains. These sections not only showcase the unusual turns research can take, but also bring a unique sense of pacing to a history book. Highly readable and filled with enough witty anecdotes to entertain people who dont normally read history, this book is a reminder that history surrounds and influences us every day of our lives.–Matthew L. Moffett, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His 9 books have been translated into 11 languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011). His freelance work includes pieces for the New Yorker, Slate, and New Scientist, and he appears on NPR Weekend Edition as its "literary detective" on odd old books.

Collins lives in Oregon, where he is an Associate Professor of English at Portland State University.

Customer Reviews

An index would have been nice.
Elizabeth A. Root
The book is well written, often very funny, and would be my textbook of choice if I were teaching high school or college history.
Louis Fried
Couldn't put it down - informative and fun read from cover to cover!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Cranky Old Librarian on December 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I won't admit just how far I was into this book before I realized the title's a play on Hitchcock's movie "The Trouble With Harry." But it's a fitting tribute: like a Hitchcock movie, it's a twisting tale filled with rogues, oddballs, humor and even a McGuffin in the form of Tom Paine's body, which gets scattered in every direction possible.

Paine himself only appears briefly though memorably before shuffling off his mortal coil. It's not a biography of Paine, which is fine because there's plenty of those already. It's something more unusual: a meditation on how one man's ideas carry on in unexpected ways long after he is gone. Collins has a whole cast of colorful and forgotten 19th century firebrands who were so inspired by Paine's work that some even had to possess a relic of their favorite rebel. There's also delightful cameos by greats like Darwin, Twain, and Whitman.

Virtually all the history and anecdotes in this book were new to me. It's as if the author was determined to write something that didn't cover any of the same ground as anyone else, and the result is both ambitious and playful.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By busmun on October 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Paul Collins knows how to have fun with old books and he passes that madcap glee onto you, the reader. Consider his advice for securing privacy on mass transit,"It is a fact that if you want to be left alone on the subway, all you need to do is read a really beat-up old book.... You think I am joking--- but try it sometime.

I root through my backpack and pull out of my bag the shabbiest, oldest-looking book imaginable. Its covers were once a pleasant marbled green, but now worn down to a barklike wooden color; every single page inside is water-stained brown. It appears to have been left at the bottom of a pond, then dragged behind a cart, and finally thrown off a high cliff."

It's not often that you come upon a tome whose subject, history of political philosophy, has you laughing out loud at least once every couple of chapters. It's history, writ with wit, very enjoyable.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth A. Root on May 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This very readable book put me in mind of James Burke's wonderful Connections, but centers around the mortal remains and intellectual legacy of Thomas Paine. I love the usual sort of history, but these "diagonal" journeys, going off in strange directions, really help pull history together and illuminate the oddities that are usually left out. Whether or not we arrive at any definite place, the trip is well worth it. Looking at history as a purposeful march from there to here leaves out so many fascinating might-have-beens. We so often end up looking at earlier times merely as a prelude to ours, not seeing the perspective of earlier generations as their chaotic, multi-sided struggle for their own present and future.

This is not for everyone: I find that many of my favorite books are lambasted by reviewers outraged that the author has not given us a clear and definitive answer to the identity of Shakespeare or Perkin Warbeck, the guilt of Lizzie Borden, the fate of the Princes in the Tower, but rather has tossed about ideas and possibilities. Perhaps it is too scary to contemplate that there may never be a final answers. This is not a biography of Paine, it begins with his final, ailing years and death. It is not for those who want a crisp, linear narrative.

Paul Collins jumps between past and present as he tracks his subjects. This is a risky strategy, and I was often surprised to find myself in another era. On the whole, I think it worked very well - it created a vivid impression of the layers of history and the disappearance of the past. In some ways, it is a metaphor for history writing: conjuring what no longer exists.

Collins moves around England and America trying to resolve the mystery of the fate of Paine's body.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Justin Damm on December 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is book is info-tainment of the highest level. It has an NPR quality that some might find unfortunate (you can almost hear Tortoise playing in between some of the paragraphs and chapters), but it works. It succesfully strikes a balance between Mr. Collins' more memoirish SIXPENCE HOUSE and NOT EVEN WRONG with the historical oddities of BANVARDS FOLLY.

As other reviewers have mentioned, THE TROUBLE WITH TOM is not just a mystery about where the remains of Tom Paine ended up. It also connects how the ideas of Tom Paine affected people and their works from the enlightenment to rationalism with how ideas, histories, and even corporeal remains are lost through time.

To accomplish this Collins lays out the articulation of a legacy through the hisotories of forgotten people and the specific conditions of the time. He remains wry yet enthralled as he follows one path to the end and then returns to an earlier one.

This skipping back and forth in the story may frustrate some, but for those who become involved in the book it should inspire a nervous feeling that something twenty pages ago was important (an admirable trait in a mystery). The literary, political, and scientific giants become entangled in trivial ways that one would dismiss were it not for Mr. Collins' apparent research (I dare someone to impeach his facts). At times the trivia threatens to overwhelm the search, but they are the immediate results of inquiries that do eventually lead to the physical remains of Tom Paine.

Even when the hunt (and the book) ends at the most logical starting point that one could possibly think of, the long road he took to get there doesn't seem wasted.
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