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Tom Paine: A Political Life (Grove Great Lives) Paperback – January 21, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Grove Great Lives
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (January 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139641
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,348,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I will admit that I was not immediately enamored with this book. The luciferous introduction on Keane's predecessors in Paineite biography was engaging enough, but I found his systematic, nit-picky demolition of each work to be just plain egotistical. In Keane's eyes, each previous biography "failed" or "floundered" for various reasons, thereby opening a window for his own, earth-shattering tome on the subject. Granted, it has become common practice for authors to "justify" their reasons for writing "yet another biography on _______" in the preface of their books, but this sort of self-serving, hypercritical overview left me with a seriously bad taste in my mouth. I seriously worried that the 540 pages that followed would be tinctured with the same sort of pomposity - thankfully that was not the case.

The book is a solid biography, and I can very well see Paine enthusiasts flocking to this as one of the <I>best</I> biographies ever written about him. As this is the <I>only</I> biography of him I've read, I'll reserve my judgment on that question, but I will admit that it is an exceptional study of a peculiar man. What the general public knows of Paine is often just his authorship of <I>Common Sense</I>, but of course there was so much more. He penned not one but three of the best-selling books of the 18th century, and, arguably, he initiated modern political thought on the subject of democratic republicanism. Paine was born an Englishman but for most of his life considered himself a "citizen of the world," which prompted a major change in how we view national citizenship - no so much as a <I>gift</I> from the state, as was the 18th century perception, but rather a <I>promise</I> from it to preserve certain rights indigenous to its people.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed Keane's biography of Thomas Paine. I thought it was well-written and fast paced. Keane did an excellent job of writing an engaging tale, which read at times like an exciting adventure novel, without sacrificing any of the complexity of the events and historical developments at issue in the book. Keane's book can be enjoyed on several different levels. First of all, for those not particularly steeped in Paine specifically or the Enlightenment Era generally, this book provides an excellent, panoramic introduction and overview. The tale can be enjoyed at a "basic" level because Paine's life was so touching and exciting. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence and was present or a witness at many major historical events including both the American and the French Revolutions. He also nearly died at the guillotine in France! So, enjoy this for the sheer events which the book describes. On another level, the book really put Paine's contributions as a writer, thinker and all-around intellectual into context for me. He played a key, maybe THE key, role in articulating and then subsequently popularizing the ideals for which Americans fought the American Revolution. Paine then went on to write other political tracts which influenced events and the intellectual history of Europe. Here was a man who influenced developments and intellectual history on two continents. I wish he would be remembered more in this country. His life and death will touch the reader - very poignant, very emotionally touching stuff to read. So, enjoy this book as biography, as history (e.g., American Revolution, French Revolution), as intellectual history, as adventure story set in the eighteenth century. It is all of these. Keane has done a fine job. Excellent research, excellent writing style
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Format: Paperback
This is the kind of biography that makes reading history worthwhile. The writing style is intelligent and clear, marshalling innumerable facts and interesting anecdotes. It gives us the full scope of Paine's remarkable life - a man who was one of the intellectual midwives at the birth of the era of democratic revolution.

He fought for free political expression as a citizen of three countries in the throes of revolutionary change: born in England where he fought against monarchy, moved to America where he became a writer of inspirational tracts for independence, and finally, made citizen of France during the violence of the Revolution where he argued, at great risk to himself, to spare the life of King Louis XVI. If his positions seem contradictory they actually reflect a philosophy of consistant political moderation.

Secondly, this biography is a story about the struggle to realize ideas against great odds. Everywhere he went he was fortunate to escape death at the hands of his murderous foes. In spite of these threats, Paine fought tirelessly for his ideals.

Thirdly, the author gives contempory meaning to Paine's goals. Paine was against religious literalism because he saw the adherence to strict doctrine as an obstacle to extablishing a civic society in which people could live together harmoniously.
This position was a cause of much suffering for Paine at the end of his life as his anti-traditional ideas incited deep personal hatred. Without needing to conclude whether he was misguided or not, suffice to say, the difficulty he tried to tackle remains with us today...in the headlines. And I don't think we've come all that far in solving the problem he recognized. That he saw its importance at the inception of modern civic society makes him a visionary of the highest importance worthy of our respect whether we agree with the totality of his ideas or not.
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