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on April 21, 2007
I am very pleased to find a book on this topic. Although his writing sometimes seems a little more aimed at college/ history students than the general public, John Moretta does a good job of drawing a full, yet succinct, picture of the man and his times. The content and the topic make this book a very worthwhile purchase.

Besides being a valuable lesson on a significant part of our nation's history, there is much to learn from reflection on Penn's life. His journey from being a child of privilege, rejecting that heritage, embracing egalitarianism and eventually returning to a preference for privilege is a good representation of the way many people travel a full circle in their lives. His desire to both profit personally while at the same time helping others with the founding of a colony ended up benefiting others but not himself. The conflict of idealism and financial pragmatism is a dilemna countless individuals with an altruistic bent must confront as well. And there are many other valuable reflections as well.

For more information on the founding of the Quaker movement, see "First Among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism" by H. Larry Ingle.
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on July 23, 2010
As a Christian pastor born, raised and presently serving in Pennsylvania, I was greatly interested in reading why may be the best biography of Penn presently available. To some degree, the spiritual DNA of our state seems to have been established in the first 20 years of the founding of Philadelphia.

I agree with other reviewers that the writing is college-level, but it is still readable for most all.

Moretta does a great job getting past the iconic, and portrays well Penn's inner and interpersonal struggles as well as his shortcomings as a businessman, a family man, a theologian, and a new world visionary.

I also agree with a previous reviewer that the editing could have been better. I was particularly struck by the [sic] on page 18 after the quoted word, "Berean." It showed me that either virtually no one who previewed this book knew very much about the Bible, or assumed virtually none of the readers did. This, then caused me to distrust some of the spiritual/doctrinal analysis throughout the rest of the book. A footnote would have been so much better.

I appreciated the analysis of most of Penn's writings, but some short tracts got much more attention from Moretta than a treatment of Penn's 600 page, "No Cross, No Crown." It not only would have been helpful to have more than a one-page treatment of its contents, but it would have been helpful to have used it as a measuring device for Penn's fidelity to it over his lifetime, as well as to contrast later statement/writings to it.

Still a great bio, and I highly recommend it.
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on October 31, 2013
Yes. Read this book.

William Penn was a much more interesting and complex person than you might suspect. Who knew that he was not the easy-going, genial guy on the Quaker Oats box? Who knew Pennsylvania was not the Peaceable Kingdom we have been taught?

To me, the most astonishing thing about William Penn is how little time Penn actually spent in the New World. Penn's writings and speeches are thoughtful, interesting and important, yet who knew that a large percentage of his time was spent in jail in the British Isles, not safely tucked in Philadelphia?

This would be a very good book for a reading group. It is an interesting, well-written, and eye-opening story. The Library of American Biography edition has a very good study guide with thought-provoking discussion questions at the end.

Kim Burdick
Stanton, Delaware
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on September 16, 2007
The biography, William Penn and the Quaker Legacy by John A. Moretta recounts the life of well-known pacifist, Quaker, and creator of Pennsylvania, William Penn. Penn impacted both American and English society by being an outspoken proponent of religious freedom and for reflecting his Quaker ideals in his political decisions. Moretta's biography takes one on a journey through Penn's turbulent political, spiritual, and emotional life.
William Penn was born in 1644, the son of a wealthy English sea captain, and lived a lonely childhood in a home with a father who was rarely present. He was put into both classical and practical schooling, however his true interest was intense reading of the Bible and pondering the Quaker messages of George Fox. As a young boy Penn became enraptured by Quaker practices and much to his father's chagrin, at age 23, he became a devoted follower. While father and son rarely understood each other, the relations his father's status allowed him to develop, like his friendship with King Charles and his brother James, would be how Penn was able to succeed throughout his life.
Penn created a stir in England and Ireland by preaching, debating, and, after being imprisoned, writing pamphlets extolling and validating the Quaker tradition. Some of his main arguments were that one should always live and dress in a plain way, people were naturally good, and that Jesus preached the brotherhood of man, meaning no wars or arms. Penn's family status, money, and his cunning use of words managed to get him out of jail the many times that he was imprisoned by the angry puritans.
As a young man Penn realized Quakers would never be free to worship in England and became fully dedicated to the development of a safe haven for Quakers and all other religious people in the New World. In 1676 Penn began the intense planning and negotiations for the colony which would meet many obstacles in the following decades. The colony was to be built on the idea that all men and women could own land and worship their own religion. While most of Penn's plans did not work out, one of the biggest things he accomplished was a peaceable relation with the Native Americans. Political disputes, personal debt, and constant pressure from the Crown and surrounding colonies kept William and Pennsylvania in a constant state of turmoil, having Pennsylvania's economic prosperity being one of the few things keeping the experiment alive. By 1700 Pennsylvania had become a state of 15,000 people, largely in part to internal emigration by people from other states wanting to worship freely and escape militia duty. Penn died in 1718 at the age of 73 having had two wives, numerous children, and many trials that he overcame using his prestige, support from the Friends, and his intelligence. He left the right to govern Pennsylvania, a state where people of different religions coexisted, with the Crown and gave the land to twelve people in American and England, including his wife.
This book was full of historical detail regarding Penn's life and gave tremendous insight in to William Penn as a person rather than just what he accomplished. Bringing in Penn's attitudes to issues allowed the book to read smoothly and allowed the reader to understand Penn on a deeper level. I particularly enjoyed how Moretta would tie a lot of events back to Penn's relationships with people important to him; his father, mother, wife, children. This put in perspective that Penn was still a human being and not just a machine who was constantly working to accomplish his next great thing. However, occasionally it would quickly skip over key historical events, requiring one to do further research into the time that Penn was living. Also, perhaps to make the book a smooth read, I frequently found myself wondering the date in which something had occurred. Oftentimes I was confused as to whether it was that in one particular year a tremendous number of events occurred or if that the writer was presenting information that spanned over a number of years. Even when I looked back to pages I had already read, this never became clear to me.
In my opinion the book made the key historical developments in Penn's life unclear because it gave a very similar amount of attention to things that seemed to be of varying importance. In that sense I wish the book had been more succinct in clearly elaborating or stating that certain events had a particularly large impact on history or Penn's life. Also, because there was so much detail about trivial events, I found the book could be repetitive and felt that the information could have been condensed.
Moretta's book left me with a deep respect for Penn and appreciation for the fact that he had been a far from perfect person but had still done tremendous good in his life. I was confused regarding certain historical developments that had been glossed over in the book (The Glorious Revolution, the Great Fire of London, the reign of William and Mary) and was curious to research more. In regards to Penn's development of the state of Pennsylvania, I did find myself wondering how much of his endeavor was a desire for religious freedom and how much was a desire to fulfill his need to wander and quest for economic prosperity. William Penn lived a determined life full of a quest for more and attaining a deeper understanding of these has made me have a strong appreciation for his strength to persevere through the tremendous opposition he met along the way.
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on August 15, 2010
Read it! Penn's life was amazing and would make a great movie. You learn a lot about early Quakerism in England and the US colonies, the founding of Pennsylvania, and daily life/political struggles in the US colonies. Penn straddled two worlds, that of the early Quaker movement and that of
English royalty and aristocracy.
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on February 27, 2013
I had to read this book for a college history class. Honestly, I never would have read it of my own free will, but it was informative about the life of William Penn, Jr. However, the author is very repetitive (it seems like there are certain words and phrases that he thought were so clever he continues using them over and over....and over). Also, I found it very difficult to sympathize with Penn - he's portrayed as very arrogant and obnoxious by the author. Granted, my knowledge of Penn up until reading this book was extremely elementary (i.e. he founded Philadelphia and was a Quaker), so maybe that's just how Penn really was. Fortunately, it's a pretty easy read to the point that younger children wouldn't have a problem comprehending it.
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on September 26, 2011
excellent detail. well written and at the same time easy to read. Informative regarding the 16 and 17 hundreds, the colonial period in America., Len
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on October 19, 2013
I had to buy it and read it for a history class that I took. Although the content wasn't that interesting to me it the book arrived in good condition. I didn't expect anything more than that.
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on January 31, 2014
This book was a great resource for my class. I received a used book and it was in great condition.
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on June 7, 2010
This is an excellent biography of a most complex human being. It does a superb job of portraying Penn as a religious man with an astute sense of political power. It gives a convincing analysis of a great man seeking to achieve great and lasting principles, but in an environment which he did not control. Thus Penn often appeared to be wavering and contradictory in his goals when he was neither.

While doing as well as he could do in an uncertain world in which he was but one of many influences, Penn was a man of contradictions in himself. He was an elitist who believed in the necessity of a society of deference, but a Quaker who believed in the natural equality of men's souls before G_d and in ultimately deferring to no man. He was a man who believed in "plainness" but continued to display the dress and housing of the upper crust in a semi-feudal Britain. He was a man whose numerous pamphlets were filled with classical references and were argued with great rationality, yet a man who believed that the most important trait in a person's life was the "inner light" of mystical intuition.

While this is a volume of many virtues which is well worth your time and money, the editor assigned to this volume by its publisher should be hung. I was frequently distracted by omitted words, misspellings and simple inept expressions that a B minus level editor would have caught and corrected. Hopefully there will be a second edition from another press.
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