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The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  246 ratings  ·  43 reviews
Paul Collins travels the globe piecing together the missing body and soul of one of our most enigmatic founding fathers: Thomas Paine.

A typical book about an American founding father doesn't start at a gay piano bar and end in a sewage ditch. But then, Tom Paine isn't your typical founding father. A firebrand rebel and a radical on the run, Paine alone claims a key role in
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 19th 2005 by Bloomsbury USA
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Mark NP
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started to read this in anticipation of including the tale of Tom Paine’s grave-robbed bones on my Haunted History Ghost Walk in October of 2018 in Bordentown, NJ. The first tours began in late September and continued through Halloween. In the meantime, my daughter Eve was born, and since I began it there just hasn’t been much time to sit and read this book. But, I write this as Eve snoozes on my chest, and I’m glad to say that I finally finished. Thanks to my distracted state of late, though, ...more
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Chronicles the dying years of Thomas Paine and beyond, using a combination of travelogue and biography, along with nutshell history lessons. Towards the end of the book, it becomes a bit scattered, not unlike the mortal remains. Still, a fun read with a bit of humor.

A big part of this book isn't so much the bones as who bought 'em, and why. Interesting characters come and go, and perhaps the greatest is Moncure Conway, the Forrest Gump of his time. I did not realize that Paine and Thoreau were
Denise Sudbeck
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked up the book originally researching Thomas Paine's reasons behind his notable quote rejecting the reasonableness of tolerance. What I found was a lot more of a fascinating story, a man reviled by so many (even the Quakers) and yet remembered fondly for his radical rationalism.

Michiel Gielen
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a pleasant journey this book was! Detective novel, travel journey, history book and diary.
There's something very Sarah Vowell-ish about this book - a fond traipsing around America (and beyond) in search of the history behind sites and stones and monuments (and in this instance, bones) in which the author reflects as much on what brought us to any particular moment, and what culture is making of that moment, as on the alleged subject. That's not a criticism - I found this absorbing, and even charming in places - I'm not sure I needed to know all this about what happened to Tom Paine's ...more
Carole Hardinge
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read the writings of Thomas Paine in high school and many of his ideas have stuck with me to this day. This book promised to be different, being that it was a biography that begins after the death of the subject. It didn’t disappoint. It followed the bones of Paine, which had been dug up and taken back to England shortly after his death in 1809. What the book really becomes is a chronicle of those who possessed ( or claimed to possess) them and how Paine’s writing and ideology continued to ...more
Marianne Evans
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The very first paragraph made me belly laugh. The author cleverly weaves me back and forth from current times to distant 1800s, from New York to London. Back and forth he reveals the macabre culture of medical and spiritual enlightenment all the while following Paine’s traveling bones. I learned a lot and enjoyed this read.

Dr. James J.  Frey
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh my... I truly loved this book... Small, quirky, well written... fascinating period-ivia... I bought it at the checkout line at the Dollar Store, of all places... Since then I've bought all the rest they had to give away. If you like to read - this is your next favorite...
Dr. Frey
Oct 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a tough book to review. I guess if I could only say one thing about it, I'd say I wish a woman had written it. Only a dude would go down so many unnecessary paths as this guy did.
Jacob Wren
Paul Collins writes:

He did still have some visitors to break up his loneliness, though. His old friend John Stewart was in the city for a while, and - how time was changing him! Strange to think of all that had passed since their days together in London, reading the day's papers and philosophizing until the wee hours of the morning at the White Bear coffeehouse on Piccadilly. Back in 1790, Stewart had been perhaps the only man in London who could draw more stares than Paine himself. Tall,
Rob Charpentier
May 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I find that the more I learn out about Thomas Paine, the more intriguing of a figure of history he becomes. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a biography that does him proper justice. For, he was both equally a wonderfully principled and admirable patriot as well as something of a rather despicable and greatly reviled Bukowski-like character. To find a truthful and accurate accounting of his life that balances this disparity of his character has proved difficult for me. In the meanwhile, I’ve ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
A most curious and enlightening study of post-colonial American culture, and the lingering intellectual effects of Revolutionary thinking on the American psyche. The author traces the weird history of Tom Paine's body, buried, dug up, taken back to England, gradually dismembered, lost, found, parceled out hither and yon, all the while continuing to interest a wide range of thinkers up through the late 19th century. A very entertaining account of progressive thinking during a time of growing ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Although the title gives the impression this is a tale about Thomas Paine's remains, it isn't. Instead, it's about a sequence of Thomas Paine-inspired, eccentric free thinkers that were far ahead of their time in their respective fields. I found a lot of these individuals extremely interesting and like-minded, but, honestly, I can't believe this book was published. It's a very boutique topic and a bit erratically executed. The worst part of the writing is the author's ad nosium tendency to ...more
Mike Nettleton
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
If you like getting the story behind the story, if you like meandering narratives that are more of sweeping floodlights than concentrated hi-beams, if you like history but don't like the way you were taught history in high school, if you like writers with unique voices, check this book out. To me, this is what history should be about — making the connections between seemingly disparate things.

Through goodreads, I found out Paul Collins teaches at PSU. I didn't know that while I was there,
Feb 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history buffs, academicians
Shelves: favorites
Once again Paul Collins proves himself to be one of the most important historians of our time. The Trouble with Tom is the most important piece of early American history that Americans will never know about. Collins explores not only the misadventures surrounding Paine's missing bones, but more importantly, what lasts long after the body- Paine's works, and the figures throughout history that his writing has affected, and how one of the most important-and forgotten-American revolutionaries ...more
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
What an interesting book! It really doesn't tell much about the living Thomas Paine, but it follows a search for Paine's remains, which were refused burial, finally buried, dug up and stolen, transported to England, transferred through several hands, and.... Well, you'll have to read it to find out. This heavily researched non-fiction book also provides information about many of the strange "medical" practices of the mid-19th century. Paine was one of the first "progressives," and his acolytes ...more
Rachel Pollock
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cnf
The e-book of this is so incredibly poorly copy-edited that it constantly distracted me from the text itself--misspellings so bad that you cannot tell what the word is supposed to be, as if the text were scanned from print by a computer, as opposed to the sort of phonetic misspellings a human writer produces. The basic book itself was, i suppose, interesting enough, but i was shocked at the poor quality of the e-text itself. Maybe this is not the case in the print version? Regardless, the e-book ...more
Brian Stillman
Dec 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2007
The real star of the book is Moncure Conway who seemed to manage a meeting however brief with practically every name author of the 19th century (Stowe, Darwin, Whitman, Poe, Twain, Emerson, Thoreau).

Collins manages adept transition between the historical aspects of the tale and his own modern trampings after Paine's remains, but the payoff is like the payoff in a p.i. novel. The getting there is the bang for the buck.

Breifly - If Chuck Klosterman ever wrote a book about a founding father, this
Jordan Scrivner
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history buffs, lee, clayton, katie
I had been meaning to read some biographies lately, and this was one of the more interesting ones I'd come across. Big ups to moms for recommending it to me. Historian Paul Collins travels the globe in search for Thomas Paine's bones. In the process, we learn about democracy, liberty, transcendentalism, and phrenology. I learned a thing or two that I didn't know before (such as that Tom Paine was the guy who first coined the words "The United States of America") which is all I could ask for in a ...more
Jul 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
I really enjoyed this book. It was suprisingly interesting. Often books written about historical political figures are quite dry, even if the people themselves were interesting. This book manages to keep you interested in:

Thomas and his role in history
His bones
The people who swipe/store/save/buy/trade/misuse his bones
How changes in society affected how Tom was seen and how his bones were treated
The author's search for Tom's bones.

This book was well written, and I recommend it for folks
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Tom Paine caused trouble even after he died--it wasn't enough to livelong enough to annoy the revolutions he helped to start, he lived on as a gave-robbed body, attached to every 19th century genuinely radical and absolutely crackpot idea. From vegetarianism, octagon communes, birth control, abolition, phrenology, spiritualism, free press, Quakers, quack medicine and deism to the Reform Act of 1832, that man's stolen head got around. Clever way to connect the 18th century's rationalism with the ...more
Mar 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Who knew that Thomas Paine was so reviled and hated during his lifetime and that his body was dug up and traveled all over creation during the 19th century? This book details the wanderings of the bones of the author of "Common Sense" and while doing so introduces a wacky set of radicals: phrenologists, Muggletonians, Octagonists,transcendentalists, and early advocates of such notions as rights for women, birth control, and vegetarianism. This book could pass as fiction, but it's not.
Ed Erwin
Mar 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No matter what subject he starts out to write about, Paul Collins always manages to find odd and interesting tid-bits along the way. The story of Tom Paine's bones is pretty odd to begin with, but he finds even odder things to include. As always, his love of searching through libraries and bookstores is on display. I don't share that passion, but I'm glad he has it, since it leads him to dig up so many interesting stories.
I love the way Paul Collins writes, and this book is no exception. He uses the trail of Tom Paine's bones as a connecting line to explore the history of ideas Paine espoused in "Common Sense". Collins mixes commentary of his travels on the trail, with the history of the place. Excellent book if you like to see different connections of history and ideas.
Nicole Sweeney
Jan 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Thomas Paine is undoubtedly one of my favorite historical figures. The book was not quite so much about him as I had hoped, but it's still a great read. The narrative of his life and the way it intertwined with others after his death is presented in a quirky and compelling fashion. It reads more like a novel than a stodgy history text. An interesting and worthwhile read.
Aug 20, 2010 rated it liked it
A strange history book about the corpse of Thomas Paine, which was disinterred by a supporter and carted off to England, then passed around, split into pieces and eventually lost. It's more about the parade of eccentrics/reformers who at some point had the body than about the writer of Common Sense.
Jason ("jcreed")
Jan 01, 2010 rated it liked it
A rambly story of American Revolutionaries, 19th-century quack medicine, and squabbling intellectuals. Pretty fun, lots of great lines, but by the time I got to the end of it, it didn't really cohere that well. If you're looking for a fun pick-up-occasionally-and-read-a-little sort of book, I do recommend it though.
Mar 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Although some of his writing is a little corny (particularly his present-day scene-setting), I absolutely loved this book! Thoroughly fascinating...never would I have imagined that I might one day admire phrenological philosophy. Can't wait to read Collins' other books!
Hildegaard Badger
Apr 17, 2013 rated it liked it
My least favourite of Paul Collins' books (the rest I loved madly) but I think it is because of my own limited capacity to keep up with the author. If you're a fan of Paine, or Collins, I'm sure you'll love it.
Sep 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
paine is an interesting man , alive or dead .i like the spiraling style of the writing . more an expedition which circles the myth, the effects of the man, and the effects of those he effected . see what i mean about spiraling . fascinating.
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Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His ten books have been translated into a dozen languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011). He lives in Oregon, where he is Chair and Professor of English at Portland ...more
“Generally, when a man is rabidly for one cause, and then is just as rabidly for another cause, it is not because he loves the cause: it is because he loves the rabies” 4 likes
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