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Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations Paperback – September 4, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143112384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143112389
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Shortly after arriving in the American colonies in 1774, Thomas Paine wrote the pamphlet "Common Sense," which was instrumental in pushing the colonies to declare independence. After independence was declared, his "16 Crisis" papers helped keep up the morale of American soldiers. Yet Paine is rarely accorded the adulation or even respect given to those deemed our Founding Fathers. To a degree, that is a result of Federalist politicians; frightened by his devotion to democratic principles and his support for revolution in France, they took every opportunity to disparage him as a rabble-rousing atheist. Nelson admirably restores Paine and his ideas to a deserved place of prominence. Above all else, Paine was a man of the Enlightenment. He went to France in 1787, defended the revolution in its early stages, but strongly opposed the descent into bloody extremism. He barely escaped execution during the Terror and died in obscurity in New York in 1809. However, his ideas stressing the virtues of democratic republicanism and his optimism for the future of America remained influential. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

CRAIG NELSON is the author of Rocket Men, The First Heroes, Thomas Paine (winner of the 2007 Henry Adams Prize), and Let's Get Lost (short-listed for W.H. Smith's Book of the Year).

His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Salon, The New England Review, Reader's Digest, The New York Observer, Popular Science, and a host of other publications; he has been profiled in Variety, Interview, Publishers Weekly, and Time Out.

Besides working at a zoo, in Hollywood, and being an Eagle Scout and a Fuller Brush Man, he was a vice president and executive editor of Harper & Row, Hyperion, and Random House, where he oversaw the publishing of twenty New York Times' bestsellers.

He lives in Greenwich Village.

photo: Helvio Faria

Customer Reviews

Craig Nelson begins his book with bones.
This audio of the life story of Thomas Paine is a must read if you believe in common sense, rights of man and religious freedom.
Frank Naeymi Rad
It is a well written and very detailed book about one of our founding fathers.
K. Lowe

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on November 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"The ruling class is the rich, who really command our industry, our commerce, and our finance. And those people are so able to manipulate our democracy that they really control the democracy."

No, these words weren't written by Thomas Paine, but by Walter Cronkite. One strongly suspects, however, that if Paine were alive and well in 2006, he would issue a similar indictment of our present plutocracy.

In his new biography of Thomas Paine, Craig Nelson writes: "While Franklin, Paine, and Jefferson would be crestfallen that the modern-day American federal government is the reserve of a new aristocracy--multimillionaire plutocrats and their corporate sponsors--Adams and Hamilton would be just as shocked to learn that their admired ruling elite no longer even pretends to lives of virtue."

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) helped foment the American Revolution through his powerful and, for the times, incendiary, writings, most notably his first great work, Common Sense (published in 1776; its working title had been Plain Truth).

In this work, Paine attacked the divine right or kings and urged the American colonists to rebel against "Mother England," throw off its slavish dependence on a tyrannical government, and establish "the United States of America" (a phrase which he originated), a new nation that would have freedom of expression, assembly, association, education, and religion.

Craig Nelson calls Paine "the Enlightenment's premier evangelist," "the apostle of the Enlightenment," and its "greatest missionary," pointing out that Paine was the most popular author of the 18th century, his other works including The American Crisis, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Nonfiction Steve on December 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Paine is portrayed vividly, honestly and intelligently by Nelson.

This book is about the man, Paine, his times, situations, his life and his influence. No other reference put me in the scene so well. It paints a vivid picture of Paine's personal life, his morals, strengths, weaknesses, and his crucial, world changing yet fragile relationships with prominent and powerful people. This book helped me understand the motivations that made Paine the most compassionate, dangerous, controversial, loved, respected, despised and important man of the 18th century.

The massive amount of research Nelson has assembled is more than impressive, it is awesome because he wove it into an a book that is not merely fact filled, but instead is alive in detail and fascinating in style. I could feel the tension and excitement of the situations Paine either initiated or wound up in. Nelson's writing style is a great lesson for many history writers. I was very impressed. Nelson is a nonfiction artist.

I felt that I was reading a screenplay, complete with scenery and a cast of award winning characters. It made me wonder why Paine has never been portrayed in a feature length movie. Few people on earth have had a more interesting, diverse, exciting, dangerous and important life. Maybe then, when a movie based on this book is produced, Paine will receive the recognition he deserves.

This book is NOT a first reader on Tom Paine. Paine's actual works are not included. Read Paine's works directly instead (many other sources exist) to get an introduction to Paine's ideas and the power of his pen.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on March 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is a beautifully written account of the life of one of the great rabble rousers in history. "Common Sense" represents one of the great documents of American history and this biography of its author relates well the ideas and values of the Enlightenment that found such profound expression in it. As the author notes, however, Paine's role in the American Revolution has never been properly appreciated. For one, his staunch commitment to the principles of Republicanism represented a threat to the nation state. When the Massachusetts legislature disbanded in 1776 and declared all inhabitants to be in a "State of Nature" Paine was thrilled. John Adams and most of the other founding group were horrified.

Overall, Nelson's "Thomas Paine" is a really an outstanding exploration of many of the founding themes of the United States, exploring in an insightful and sometimes provocative manner the relationship of the ideals of the Enlightenment to the establishment of the nation. It also offers an important analysis of the role of personal ideals in relation to civic responsibility. At what point, for instance, does a person of honor and integrity begin to oppose a government engaged in actions viewed by the person as reprehensible? If one decides that opposition is required, what type of action follows--civil disobedience, armed insurrection, and the like? I find these fascinating questions and no less salient today than when Paine wrestled with them in the eighteenth century. Nelson's book raises fundamental issues in the context of American history and governance.
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