Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations” as Want to Read:
Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,891 ratings  ·  83 reviews
John Adams told Thomas Jefferson that "history is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine." Thomas Edison called him "the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible." He was a founder of both the United States and the French Revolution. He invented the phrase, "The United States of America." He rose from abject poverty in working-class England to th ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published September 21st 2006 by Viking Adult (first published 2006)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,891 ratings  ·  83 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations
Alan Tomkins-Raney
Superb. More than just a well crafted biography of an American founding father, this book is a fascinating thrill ride through the Age of Enlightenment's democratic revolutions in America and France of the late eighteenth century. Paine's outsized and enduring influence on politics and human rights is explored and elucidated through gripping narrative history. The story of Paine emigrating from England to the American colonies, his role in the American revolution, then his subsequent life at the ...more
Todd Martin
Jun 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Thomas Paine, revolutionary figure, pamphleteer and author of 'Common Sense', 'The Ascent of Man' and 'The Age of Reason' among others was a complex and contradictory figure of the war for independence. Alternately celebrated and reviled he was the best selling author of his day who donated the profits from his work or waived them to keep the cost low so that it may be read by the greatest number of citizens. In contrast, he was sentenced to, and escaped death in two countries and engendered wid ...more
Stephie Williams
The book introduced to me the actual events in Thomas Paine's life. I had read most of his major works, or large portions there of. His political ideas were somewhat familiar, so there were no big surprises. The book also filled me in on Paine's deism. Evidently, he had a believe in an afterlife for those that lived a good life. I had thought, in the past, that his deism was just a cover up for a basically atheist belief. However, the book relates that his belief in a god was genuine, but defini ...more
Jon Gautier
Sep 28, 2020 rated it liked it
For me this one was tough sledding; I often found reasons to not pick it up, but I can’t quite say why. It is well written and (mostly) engaging. It has some interesting facts that were new to me. Part of the problem, as the author explains, is that there is little reliable first hand evidence about Paine in the way of letters and diaries, and much of what is there is biased and self-serving, both pro- and anti-Paine. So though it is a biography, it relies on long quotes from the published writi ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author had a challenge here—Paine was a thinking man, not a man of physical action, so his biography was more about his influence than about what he did, although he had a few harrowing adventure, like barely missing a date with the guillotine. I did not come away with a full understanding of the true character of the man. He was complex and the reactions to him were complicated and diverse. But his affect was huge and he certainly deserves a place on the top shelf of American heroes.
Doreen Petersen
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book. The way Paine was treated towards the end of his life is despicable for such an ardent supporter of American liberty.
Rossrn Nunamaker
I wasn't too familiar with Paine's life and only knew of his writings, though could not say that I had studied or known them well.

Nelson did a good job of explaining in great detail Paine's life and work in the context of the times.

In his lifetime, Paine was friends with Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the other founders of our nation. He was also friends with Lafayette and met with Napoleon, who claimed to keep a copy of Rights of Man under his pillow. In essence, every
Apr 11, 2008 rated it liked it
It is good for me to gain some knowledge of what happened so long ago and to read about someone who isn't studied about in school as much as say George Washington or Napoleon, and was a part of the beginnings of America and influencial to France. The author did an excellent job of explaining events, how life was for Thomas Paine and how he worked together with the "better well-known" founding fathers. ...more
Jason Hissong
This is pretty good, if a little long. Paine is one of the most important figures of both the American and French Revolutions and oftentime I feel he takes a back seat to the Founding Fathers who became President and Franklin.

Still, this is a good comprehensive look at Paine's life and well worth a read if one's into that sort of thing.
Karen Koppy
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
Well written, objective biography of Thomas Paine - who was a huge influence on the populace to promote the idea of republican/democratic government vs monarchy. His pamphlets (Common Sense, etc) were made available to everyone; he didn't really make any money from them. He was also active in the French Revolution and tried to convince the English to embrace democracy vs monarchy. But the English threw him out because they supported the monarchy, and at the end the French imprisoned him because ...more
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
There were a few minor historical inaccuracies (for example where Marat was stabbed), but overall an excellent read. It is, however, massively contextual, and you learn far more about other figures and the times of Thomas Paine than Thomas Paine himself. However, as a history lover, I really enjoyed the all-encompassing approach of this book.
Steve Scott
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the unabridged audio version of this book.

It’s an excellent and in depth exploration of the man, his works, and the age he lived in. It’s also very well written.

I may have to check out Nelson’s other works.
Douglas Graney
Jul 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
You learn about the culture, surroundings, contemporaries and concerns of the era, albeit dully written. But the author doesn’t unlock the man. Want to know Paine? Read Common Sense.
Matthew Rowbotham
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about a fascinating individual who did so much to shape the modern world and died in such strange and sad circumstances.
Curt Steinmetz
One of the best historical biographies I've ever read. So it turns out that old Tom Paine was one of the most important and influential people of the modern world. Seriously. ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book! It has been quite a while since I read a history book and this one has made me realize I need to step up my historical game!
SO much I never knew about Thomas Paine, and now I know!
The reader did a fine job as well, so five stars it is.
May 26, 2020 added it
I enjoyed the history presented in this book.
Riley Haas
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have only ever read The Rights of Man many years ago. I loved Paine's wit (there are many classic one-liners, including my favourite anti-monarchist barb of all time: "a hereditary monarch makes as much sense as a hereditary poet laureate," rimshot) but found his philosophy superficial, probably because I had just left grad school.

This biography makes a compelling case for Paine being one of the greats of the Enlightenment - man able to combine philosophical ideas with prose that was intelligi
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Thomas Paine is a fascinating failure at almost everything he tried, except in the realm of revolutionary writing, in that he had no equal. His ideas are familiar to anyone who lives in a modern democratic society, so even if you have never read a word of his writing you would instantly recognize his contributions to modern society.

Paine's first 37 years were unremarkable. He leaves his native country of England as a poor immigrant to seek a new life in the new world. Within a decade of his arr
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
From a mechanic in London - lower class and not well to do either - to the founder of both the French Republic and US, a founding father of the latter, a thinker, someone who put forth the case for rights of every citizen and thoughts about inherent power in every one irrespective of status and other criteria then (as, indeed, even now, albeit subconsciously) prevalent, someone less well known than other more famous contemporary figures.

He was the origin of the phrase United States of America,
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
To learn about the life of Thomas Paine is to develop a deeper understanding about the founding of the United States as a nation. After all, he first published use of the phrase "United States of America." Born in England, he rose to be as centralized and controversial a figure as any amongst our founding fathers. His many writings, which included Common Sense, Age Of Reason, The American Crisis, and and Rights of Man; were all lightning rods that either inspired or antagonized the nations of No ...more
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The author notes the mythological perception of the 'founding fathers' and notes they were actually extremists. Thomas Paine was considered more radical because "he explained modern, patrician ideas in essays that any plebeian could read and understand." Portions of Paine's writings are interspersed throughout this work. Mr. Nelson also puts Paine in context with his times and describes various philosophies e.g. deism and how the 'founding fathers' expressed their beliefs.
Other interesting quote
Aug 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
A very informative and, it appears, mostly objective biography of America's forgotten founding father. Already familiar with most of his major works, this book gave me even more respect for Paine. He viewed himself as a practical philosopher, and refused to compromise his belief in broad-based demoracy with inalienable rights, opposition to slavery, and attempt to live a life of civic virtue inspired by Ancient Rome.

Some select quotes:

Regarding Paine's prescience:
"It could be said that the most
Norm Konzelman
I didn't want to give this three stars, but the fascinating recounts of so many events that had to be accurate as they were in the words of the historical men and women presented here, also caused me for some time great confusion when the authors accounts of these same men were added.
As far as I can tell according to this book, the great men who banded together at the possible cost of their very lives to, under the guiding hand of God bring about the birth of the greatest nation to ever inhabit
Brent Ranalli
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Pros: Generally very well written, and elegantly captures the 18th c. intellectual and social milieu that formed the background and raw material of Paine's life and thought.

Cons: In spite of the author's best efforts, Paine remains a two-dimensional character. We're left looking in at him from the outside. This is not entirely the author's fault. Paine was in some ways a private and disagreeable person and would have been hard to empathize with under most circumstances. And given that so many of
Bob Reutenauer
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lot's of attention to Paine these days! I called attention in my blog:
Nelson's book is a great read both for people new to Paine or for those who already have some ideas about his work, character, importance. Some revisionist conclusions will lead to more research. For example the common view of his hard drinking and dying penniless is questioned. Nelson claims Paine had a million dollar estate. Most interesting for political philosophy and history is Nels
Marshall Kupresanin
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
How can a man who donated his life savings to the U.S. Continental Army and who advocated more than anyone else the idea that all men are created equal, be universally reviled by the time he died? Such is the unfortunate and undeserving fate of Thomas Paine, an Englishman who was ironically America's first best selling author. Paine risked his life to publish works denouncing the privileged rich and championing a government where all are happy and none are in want. Thomas Paine was ahead of his ...more
Jack Hansen
I now understand why I knew very little about Thomas Paine, other than he being the author of "Common Sense." His brilliance and enigmatic nature cause devotion and hatred, depending on one's philosophy of life and government. Many contradicting, defamatory claims about this man have been dispelled but some are kept alive still by those less informed. His writings are studied and quoted widely.

Author, Craig Nelson, reveals Paine's deep and honest pursuit of truth. It seems that those who pursue
This provides a potted history of the Enlightenment as much as it offers an account of the life of Thomas Paine. And I found both absorbing and thrilling. The book successfully conveys just how radical and daring and unlikely the rationalist effort to make the world over again was, without ever becoming triumphalist; the book closes by describing the disappointment later in life of most of the American founding fathers, and how they would be disappointed in our own government, as well as by poin ...more
Michael Anderson
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. How did Paine, one of the prime movers of the American Revolution, become so marginalized and ostracized? Common Sense convinced Americans to break from Britain instead of working toward a less abrupt solution. the Rights of Man described the ideals that should been in the French Revolution and earned Paine a sedition charge in Great Britain. The Age of Reason championed Deism in the face of France's ouster of the church. Paine was no atheist, as his detractors claimed, but this ...more
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • Samuel Adams: A Life
  • Madison and Jefferson
  • John Adams
  • Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
  • Master of the Senate
  • Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams
  • American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
  • John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life
  • Eisenhower: Soldier and President
  • Eisenhower: The White House Years
  • Paul Revere's Ride
  • Theodore Rex
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
  • American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence
  • James Madison: A Biography
See similar books…

Related Articles

  Walter Isaacson, it’s safe to say, is not afraid of tackling the really big topics. In 2011, he wrote about our ubiquitous computer culture...
113 likes · 21 comments
“When the Viennese government compiled a Catalogue of Forbidden Books in 1765, so many Austrians used it as a reading guide that the Hapsburg censors were forced to include the Catalogue itself as a forbidden book.” 25 likes
More quotes…