Penn reads more like a novel than a biography, so carefully has Vining integrated her research with a pleasing literary style. She has balanced drawing a vital and accurate portrait of Penn with drawing repeated attention to the main theme of his life—the advocacy of religious and political liberty in a place and time when such freedom was almost nonexistent.

By placing her emphasis on Penn’s formative years, Vining not only makes an appeal to the young adult reader but also sets a firm foundation for understanding Penn’s adult life, with its strength and weakness. While Penn is of heroic stature to the author, she sees his one major flaw—a poor judge of others because of his trustingness—and his foibles clearly. Vining examines the unintentionally humorous side of Penn, as when he wrote a letter calling upon a vice chancellor at Oxford to repent of his Quaker-baiting, addressing him as “Poor Mushroom.” (The author remarks that “the Mushroom made no answer and, so far as anyone knows, did little repenting.”)

As the title of book 1, “Son William,” indicates, Vining defines Penn chiefly in relation to his father, Admiral Penn. Penn had nothing but love, respect, and hero worship for his father, but when his father repeatedly tried to make him recant his Quaker faith and ways, he successfully resisted. The dramatic high point of the biography comes when Penn, at the age of twenty-five, is brought to a jury trial on...

(The entire section is 533 words.)