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Thomas Paine and the Promise of America Paperback – July 25, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Kaye offers a masterful and eloquent study of the man he reestablishes as the key figure in the American Revolution and the radical politics that followed it. Focusing on close readings of Paine's major writings, Kaye devotes the first half of the book to Paine's role in the seething fervor for American liberty and independence and his influence on the French Revolution. In Common Sense (1763), which sold 150,000 copies in just a few months, Paine advocated self-government and democracy in the colonies, accused the British of corruption and tyranny, and urged "Americans" to rebel. He championed representative democracy and argued that government should act for the public good. Paine's contributions were not limited to his own time; Kaye traces Paine's influence on American rebels and reformers from William Lloyd Garrison and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs in the second half of his book. In 1980, Ronald Reagan quoted him—"We have it in our power to begin the world over again"—in his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention. As historian Kaye (The American Radical) points out, Paine—"the greatest radical of a radical age"—would have been surprised to learn that conservatives, whose values he opposed, had used his words in their cause. 25 illus. not seen by PW. (Aug.)
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

Facing a saturated market for biographies of Thomas Paine, historian Kaye opts to chronicle the effect of his legacy. Reading like a roll call of populists, reformers, and radicals, Kaye's presentation aims to repossess Paine from conservatives who "do not--and truly cannot--embrace him and his arguments." Kaye's audience may measure the assertion against the preliminary passages of this work, which outline Paine's life and paraphrase his revolutionary classics (Common Sense, The American Crisis, and The Age of Reason). Underscoring Paine's championing of exceptionalism, the idea of America's uniqueness in world history (which has conservative roots in Puritanism as well as in the radicalism espoused by Paine and preferred by Kaye), the author recounts Paine revivals that have coincided with reform movements. For a universalistic reach beyond a movement's immediate aims, Paine has been ready-made, and Kaye summarizes how Paine has inspired abolitionists, suffragettes, workingmen, socialists of the Progressive and New Deal eras, and historians. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; Reprint edition (July 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809093448
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809093441
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben and Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. An award-winning author, Kaye has published fifteen books on history, politics, and ideas, contributed articles and essays to a diverse array of publications, including the Washington Post, the Daily Beast,, and Huffington Post, and appeared as a guest on numerous television and radio programs, including "Bill Moyers Journal," BookTV's "After Words," "Here and Now," and "The Thom Hartmann Show."

Born in New Jersey, Kaye received his B.A. at Rutgers (1971), his M.A. at the University of London (1973), and his Ph.D. at Louisiana State University (1976). He is a member of the National Writers Union, AFT, and PEN, and an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer (2007-2013). Kaye lives with his wife Lorna in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where they raised two daughters and root for the Packers. His newest book - The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great - was published by Simon & Schuster in 2014.

Watch Harvey J Kaye on Bill Moyers Journal January 2008:
and again in June 2009:

Watch Harvey J Kaye on Thom Hartmann's Conversations with Great Minds January 2011

Watch Harvey J Kaye on Moyers and Company April 2014

Watch Harvey J Kaye on MSNBC The Cycle

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The astonishing revolution that brought forth the American republic seems an unending source of curiosity; in the past year there has been one book after another about the American Revolution itself or about the Founding Fathers who eventually brought a Constitution to cap the Revolution's success. Perhaps we will never tire of examining the start of our nation. Perhaps, as Tom Paine himself wrote, even now "It is yet too soon to write the history of the Revolution." Paine himself has been written out of the Revolution many times by those who could not stand his political or religious principles, but as Harvey J. Kaye shows in _Thomas Paine and the Promise of America_ (Hill and Wang), Paine's authentically radical voice was not only an essential spark to unite the colonists against Britain, but also provided a legacy of inspiration to reformers in the succeeding two centuries.

Kaye's book encompasses two parts, one a brisk biography of Paine, and then a biography of Paine's posthumous life within American history and ideas. It was only in 1774 that Paine, upon the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin, crossed the Atlantic to Philadelphia. He was 38 years old, and quickly became a journal editor. He wrote _Common Sense_ anonymously, exhorting his countrymen not only to independence, but to republicanism. He formulated his arguments so that everyone could understand them, and everyone did; _Common Sense_ united and inspired the colonists to a new American cause. He became involved in politics again in France with the storming of the Bastille.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Jim on June 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Although I purchased this book assuming it was a biography of Paine, I discovered it was much more. While the first third of the book is a short, excellent biography, the heart if the book is a study of Paine's influence on American's liberal, progressive, radical movements and even of the Reagan conservative revival. Kaye makes it clear that his sympathies lie with the left and views Reagan's reliance on Paine's words as a highjacking, but despite this bias, the book is an objective analyses of Paine's influence throughout the 230 years of American history. One question, I have often asked is why did the conservative elite of the Colonial Era, who had so much to lose if the Revolution failed, pledge the "their lives, their fortunes and scared honor" to the cause of American Independence? Kaye offers a plausible and logical explanation: the influence of Thomas Paine's pamphlets, most notably "Common Sense.".
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Lucia on November 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
What a great book! It starts out with a nice history of Paine's work during the early years of our Country. Then it follows the influence of his work up to present time. The second part does get tedious at times but the book is still worth reading. Well written, well researched, passionate whether you agree with the interpretation or not. NOT A GOOD BOOK FOR FANS OF CONSERVATIVE TALK RADIO :)
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Burchell on September 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Kaye's biographical narrative of Paine's life, which comprises the first half of this work, is the best currently in print. Past errors and mischaracterizations are corrected and Paine's extraordinary revolutionary career is accurately surveyed in an easily read, well-cited, and very accessible text. The second half of Kaye's work traces the political and social influences of Paine and his "paineite" disciples from the latter half of the 19th century to the present time. Featured prominently are the many activists in women's suffrage, black abolition, labor reform, land reform,and civil rights who have invoked Paine's ideology of democratic reform. From "Red" Emma Goldman to "Far Right" Ronald Reagan, Americans have invoked Paine's name and claimed his legacy. Kaye recounts them all and, in the process, reminds America and the world of Paine's great contributions to the history of individual liberty, justice, and equality.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on July 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
It is the position of the author that Paine was essentially the first well-known radical democrat in America, exported those views to both England and France in the 1790s, and has inspired those seeking to counter the forces of oppression ever since. Though Paine was a latecomer to the revolutionary cause in the colonies, having arrived only in Nov, 1774, there is little dispute that his pamphlet "Common Sense," 1776, was a break with a pattern of caution that many followed in regards to separation with England. His excoriation of the English government including the King, which reached vast numbers of colonists, was a huge factor in increasing revolutionary fever to a level sufficient for a formal Declaration of Independence only six months later.

This book is not a biography, per se, of Paine. The first third of the book follows the political part of his life. The author's first purpose is to demonstrate the significant influence that Paine's writings had on the revolutionary effort in America and in Europe. His sixteen "American Crisis" papers during the War helped to recharge American resolve during very trying times for the American military. "Rights of Man," 1792, was highly critical of the vast class disparities existing in British aristocratic society, which resulted in his conviction of sedition in absentia. "Age of Reason," written in France in 1795, denounced institutionalized churches "as human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit." "Agrarian Justice," 1796, explained poverty as being a consequence of exploitation and the power of private property. It is a body of work that to that time in history may not have been matched in sheer audaciousness.

Paine was controversial in the colonies from the beginning.
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