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Tom Paine: A Political Life Hardcover – 1 Mar 1995
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About the Author
John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Westminster and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy.
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While Paine lived and worked through his writing his life was full of drama whether it's enlisting on privateers in his youth or barely surviving the terror of the French revolution. This biography is very good at putting the events of his life in their proper social and political context. In particular a lot of attention is rightly paid to his early years in Thetford and the social condition of those times. One period where I struggled to follow the thread though was the transition from America to France after the American war was over. I got the impression that part 3 of the book had been written at a very different time to the previous section. That's a minor quibble though compared to the major achievement that this book represents.
This is a superb biography which brings alive the human story of a man who helped to change the world he lived in.
That is, however, if you manage to finish it. If you have some sensitivity to language and wish to absorb these facts in a way that is pleasing or at least inoffensive, you may throw it down and jump on it. This book appeared after editors changed from being people who shaped, guided, and polished an author's work to mere purchasing agents, and when copy editors (or line editors) were on their way to becoming extinct.
As a result, the writing is full of tautology, anachronism, repetition, and the kind of stuffy condescension that results from a staid type of writer's trying to sound exciting and relevant. Again and again (and again) he remarks "little did Paine know that" or "he could not foresee" or some other form of Monday-morning quarterbacking. Does the professor think Paine was the only man of his time without a fully functioning crystal ball? Or does he believe his readers think so? Why else would this silly remark be worth making.
Having thrown and jumped, I kicked this book into a corner, where I will leave it until I finish the collection of Paine's writing for which it was a preparation, and maybe by then I will have calmed down and be glad to have some more facts. But be warned!
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