Tom Paine (Magill Book Reviews)
Among American revolutionary leaders, Thomas Paine is perhaps the most controversial and most reviled by history. Somewhat mercurial, Paine poses a challenge to a biographer seeking a balanced and fair assessment. Largely because of his revolutionary writings, Paine merits the attention of posterity and a just biographical assessment.
Keane’s careful probing of the available records has resulted in a biography that is balanced, fair, and on the whole favorable. TOM PAINE: A POLITICAL LIFE traces the subject from his humble origins to the height of fame as a political writer, after the publication of COMMON SENSE (1774), and through later controversies and decline. After an early apprenticeship in England, he met Benjamin Franklin and followed Franklin’s advice to seek his fortune in America. Paine arrived in Philadelphia just in time for the American Revolution. With publication of his pamphlet COMMON SENSE, his name became a household word, and his essays on behalf of the Revolution, THE AMERICAN CRISIS, enhanced this fame.
Yet the idealism that made Paine so effective a propagandist for revolutionary views also made it difficult for him to function in routine, mundane duties. Leaving America for France, he continued his revolutionary writings there. He found himself at first famous and later prominent, yet narrowly escaped the Reign of Terror. He lived his last final seven years in the United States, sometimes the confidant of leaders...
(The entire section is 350 words.)
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Tom Paine (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Thomas Paine, who liked to view himself as a citizen of the world and who was in fact a citizen of three different nations, ran the risk of ending his life as a man without a country. A child of revolution, he played a major part in two important upheavals of the late eighteenth century, in the United States and France, and sought unsuccessfully to bring about another in England. In a carefully detailed, objective, and comprehensive biography, John Keane chronicles the life of this famous revolutionary, a man significant because of his role as a theorist and propagandist.
Because Paine lived through an age of revolution, his biographer is challenged by a complex, rapidly changing setting. As if to show how Paine coped with the shifting sands that he found under him, Keane concentrates on placing him within the historical setting and accounting for the works promoting revolutionary ideas that flowed from his pen. Although Keane has written numerous other books, he reveals more than a temporary interest in Paine, for he has also prepared a scholarly bibliography of Paine’s writings consisting of more than six hundred titles. This work, when published, will serve as the foundation for a complete edition of Paine’s writings.
For his strident deism and his partisanship as well as his occasional poor judgment in attacking others, Paine has been subjected to more negative attention than other leaders of early America. It was his fate to achieve...
(The entire section is 1923 words.)