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review 2016-06-02 03:10
Thomas Paine - Enlightenment, Revolution, & the Birth of Modern Nations (07) by Nelson, Craig [Paperback (2007)] - Thomas Nelson Publishers

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") 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 intelligible to the masses and who wrote about any number of topics (and even designed bridges!). In this version, Paine is an important figure worthy of serious study and as important (if not more so) as his contemporaries, with contributions to both philosophy and actual political life (including helping to draft multiple constitutions).

I have two nitpicks with the book.

The first is that Nelson loves Paine too much. He asks us to forgive Paine's faults, after all Paine is only a man. But Nelson does not extend the same courtesy to some the people who argued with Paine, particularly John Adams (who comes across as an absolutely awful person in this book) and Edmund Burke (whose position on the French Revolution is considered some kind of betrayal, both personal and political).

The second major issue is with Nelson's portrayal of Pitt the Younger's "terror." Nelson equates the suppression of free speech in England (something that was quite common at the time) with the Terror in France. I am nearly a free speech absolutist, but one cannot claim that jailing people for months for writing things is in any way the same as the mass murder of thousands of people. This is just absurd and downright preposterous. I really don't understand where Nelson is coming from here.

But those two things aside, this is a really interesting biography of one of the most important writers of his era.

Well worth your time.

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review 2016-02-23 19:36
An excerpt from Dr. E.B. Foote's Medical Common Sense

I finished The Trouble With Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine and I want to write a long, quote filled review that will make you want to read it but I also want to get a post up! I might post a better review within the next week...
To keep it short for now, it's a book mostly about the generations directly following Paine's. Each of the people it profiles had their lives forever altered when they read Paine's work and most of them came in contact with his remains at some point, which were taken from his grave by an enemy turned admirer. It's both inspiring and disheartening to read about these men who were feminists, vegetarians, and who encouraged racial mixing at a time when racial marriages were illegal almost everywhere and even in more progressive places whites still didn't see blacks as their equals. Inspiring for obvious reasons and disheartening because this: 


"The very fact that men talk of allowing women this or that liberty is evidence that authority itself has been usurped. As well might a pickpocket talk of giving a port-monnaie to someone from whom he had clandestinely filched it. I tell you, reader, we men have no rights to give women; she possesses naturally the same rights as we do." 


...because THIS, written in 1870 in reference to women's work rights and rights to CHOOSE whether to have a child or use birth control is STILL controversial!!! (When I read that I almost yelled I was so excited. I want to go back and time and give this guy a hug... and then unfortunately disappoint him by telling him that we're still fighting for African American and women's rights.)

So all in all, this book got me riled up and excited and pissed off and hopeful and everything else a book should do. Highly recommended to anyone who likes reading about inspiring figures from the past and anyone who has any interest in Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, or other American historical figures of a similar vein. 



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text 2016-02-08 15:43
Reading progress update: I've read 51 out of 288 pages.
The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine - Paul Collins

A journey through all the places that Thomas Paine's remains passed through. So far it's interesting and does a fairly decent job of using the story of what happened after his death to reveal what he was like in life, but a lot of it is focusing more on the people he was friends with. It's also extremely conversational, which sometimes works and sometimes not so much. Still, pretty enjoyable so far. 

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review 2016-01-17 00:00
The Age Of Reason
The Age Of Reason - Thomas Paine Before I read this book, I used to think there were just six general arguments that Christians (or other theistic religions) needed to debate: design (teleological), first cause, morality, ontological, purpose of life, and proof of the resurrection. Paine did something else entirely. He argued by showing the absurdity of Christianity as a whole, and the internal contradiction within and between chapters of the bible. Those are the debates apologist never participate in because they are the low hanging fruits and aren't defendable.

Adam (man) caused original sin by eating an apple in spite of a talking snake's admonition. God comes to earth in the form of his son to die a horrible death to atone for all men (and women). One can pay a debt of a pauper and keep him out of debtors prison, but the punishment for other crimes can't be atoned by somebody else vicariously (at least not for the world I live in). Paine makes a good point on how all revealed truth becomes hearsay for everyone else but the one who God talked to directly.

Paine shows at the most the books of the bible are history books and are not written by who the books claim they are written by and were written well after they claim they were. He gets quite detailed in demonstrating inauthentic claims of authorship, and shows anachronisms internal to the document. Also, he shows directly the cruelty of the people of the Old Testament.

Paine is a Diest, but he attaches no predicates to his God. I like to think of God as Arthur C Clark did in one of his books as Bob a supercomputer of some kind. It perfectly reasonable in the time before Darwin to have been a Deist after all as Kant wrongly said "there will never be a Newton for a blade of grass".
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