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Tom Paine

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  58 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
Setting his compelling narrative of Tom Paine's life against a vivid social backdrop, John Keane melds together the public and private sides of Paine's life in a remarkable piece of scholarship, which is also thrilling to read.
Published April 18th 1996 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published 1995)
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Mark Desrosiers
Be warned: this biography is terrifying -- in which a defender of "people power", a principled antagonist of wealthy elites, is ultimately rejected and destroyed by mobs of religious Frenchmen and later Americans, many of whom had once considered him a hero. The final pages here remain one of the most harrowing accounts of helplessness and emptiness I've ever encountered -- you may shed real tears to witness this quill-wielding giant dead-broke, shitting himself, weeping, despised by all America ...more
Jul 08, 2009 Kristen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only criticism is: for as thick as this book is, I would have liked to hear more about Paine's relationship with all of the great historical figures he knew, since that is one of the things that makes Paine so interesting. Also Keane has a tendency to interject his own views into the narrative and sometimes it becomes hard to discern where Paine's views end and Keane's began.

Otherwise it was a first rate biography. Keane is a great writer and the book reads more like exciting fiction than th
Igor Faynshteyn
Sep 06, 2013 Igor Faynshteyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This biography of the great political writer and philosopher during the American revolutionary era is an erudite and definitive masterpiece. Although highly detailed, and at times feeling needlessly so, it remains readable and enjoyable throughout its 536 pages.

The biography focuses more on Paine's political life than on his day to day mundane affairs. The book is divided roughly into 4 sections: Paine's early years in England; his years in America during the American Revolution; his years back
Jonathan Kent
Jul 25, 2013 Jonathan Kent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Possibly the single book that has had the most profound impact on my understanding of history and politics. Tom Paine is a vital link between the radicals of the civil war and the liberal left of today. He embodied and lived the ideals of the enlightenment. His instincts are deeply humane, his perception sharp and uncluttered, his ability to turn plain prose into a hymn to liberty unparalleled.
John Keane does Paine every justice with that rarest of things, a political biography that demands that
Brett Provance
Jul 19, 2012 Brett Provance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This work by John Keane is a biographical window to historical understanding. Upon reading, one is staggered at Paine's influence and his involvement with so many events, especially because today he is often not included within the standard set of American founders, but rather is an adjunct. However, Paine led people to reevaluate the status of the individual in the world, in the process calling into question, with sharp rhetoric, long-established ruling and social institutions. The only analogu ...more
Dec 17, 2008 Algernon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
An exhaustive biography of a Founding Father forgotten and ill-used, rich in specific political detail, so as to bring us to a more intimate understanding of the American revolution and its aftermath as well as to see Mr. Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason, as a contemporary with much to teach us in 2008.
Matt McCormick
Aug 28, 2016 Matt McCormick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The biography was well researched and well written. The author's appreciation and admiration for Paine (which at times was excessive) didn't detract from an overall insightful and illuminating read. I was reminded how little I knew of a person so important to the cause of American independence and equally important as a political philosopher. While the author, at times, gave Paine too much credit for some of the concepts he championed - almost suggesting Paine as the originator rather than the p ...more
Nov 13, 2015 Katharine rated it really liked it
Long detailed life of an important political thinker who lived through extraordinary times. Thomas Paine was born in England but repudiated the government of George III to play an important role as a political polemicist in both the American and French Revolutions. At times fascinating and at times turgid I didn't warm to the massively conceited Paine but the author did a good job of describing Paine's life and times.
Anne Platts
Apr 18, 2015 Anne Platts rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: keepers
Second reading of this excellent biography, Paine was a significant thinker with an effective political voice who developed many ideologies underpinning modern civil society. Where is this thought and voice for our time?
Alex Kurtagic
Though somewhat hagiographical, it confirms much of what critical biographers had written about the rogue. Bends over backwards trying to explain a number of his questionable actions.
Oct 10, 2015 Megan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
the stuff on the french revolution was cool but everything else was pretty boring.
Perry Krasow
Mar 17, 2013 Perry Krasow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
A well-written, unbiased popular history of this revolutionist who opposed organized religion. The author does an excellent job of placing Paine's writings in their historical context. Not a hagiography. Paine is presented with his human flaws intact, including his stunning arrogance. Full review of this and other titles at
Dec 22, 2012 Arwin rated it really liked it
This excellent biography brilliantly succeeds in conveying the immense moral and intellectual powers of this political giant. At the same time it shares Paine's naiveté concerning the use of terror as well as his blind spot for the role of the lower classes during deep social upheavals. Nonetheless a terrific book!
Craig Bolton
Tom Paine: A Political Life (Grove Great Lives) by John Keane (2003)
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