Top critical review
Great facts, dopey writing
29 January 2011
If all you want is to learn the facts of Paine's life--what he did and why and with what result, how his writing echoed or defied the temper of his time, what the political and economic climate was in which he wrote--then this book will leave you extremely well informed about this brilliant and fearless and honourable man, who was two centuries ahead of his time and remains in some ways ahead of our own.
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!