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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 December 2009
Tom Paine: The life of a revolutionary, by Harry Harmer, Haus Publishing, London, 2006, 128 ff.

A great man less beloved
By Howard A. Jones

Harry Harmer is a writer with a Ph.D. in history and this is one of several books he has written in this subject area. His subject here was a great social reformer of the Enlightenment and, like his predecessor Thomas Hobbes, was one who expressed the same opposition to unbridled power. Paine championed both the individual and society of the common man as a whole against both Church and State in their attempt to make all those in their power conform. No doubt he was influenced by his father's Quaker beliefs.

Paine was born in Thetford, Norfolk, in 1737; he was by turns a corset maker, a customs and excise officer, and a magazine editor and pamphleteer. It was through this work while in Pennsylvania in 1774 that his writings, especially the short tract Common Sense, were a major influence in encouraging the American Revolution against British Rule under George III. In these pamphlets Paine was one of the first to advocate the ideals of the welfare state.

Having liberated America from the rule of monarchy, Paine set about doing the same for the French after his return to Europe in the 1780s. His humanitarian influence was still being felt in America a century later when his advocacy of the abolition of slavery was one of the factors to precipitate the American Civil War.

These and other facts and influences of Paine's life are well described by Harmer. Though Paine is sometimes described as an anarchist and atheist, a much fairer description would be to call him a deist and humanitarian. We owe many of our democratic freedoms today to this man and Harmer's is a lucid and balanced biography. There are several pages of references to the quotations Harmer has used from Paine's writings and a useful index.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Thomas Paine
Political Writings. Ed. Bruce Kuklick.
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