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Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty: How One Man's Ideas Helped Form a New Nation

Review

Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty: How One Man's Ideas Helped Form a New Nation

In the time of our Founding Fathers, few men contributed more to the cause of liberty than Thomas Paine. However, few have been as unfairly neglected by popular history as Paine has as well. In Albert Marrin’s book THOMAS PAINE: CRUSADER FOR LIBERTY, the author provides details about Paine’s momentously influential life from his unhappy young life in England, to his freedom fighting in the American colonies, to his leadership role in the French Revolution and back to the US for his old age. CRUSADER FOR LIBERTY provides a comprehensive biography of Paine while also giving full background information on every major historical event that took place in his lifetime.

“THOMAS PAINE: CRUSADER FOR LIBERTY would be a useful addition to any school library for the dearth of information it contains over a wide range of historical events, and it could be very helpful to a student writing a report on the Founding Fathers.”

Paine grew up on the bottom rung of the social ladder in England during the Enlightenment era, when regular folks started to question why things are as they are and push back against the established order. He came to the American colonies just as a revolution was fomenting here, and he wrote a pamphlet titled COMMON SENSE that articulated the case for independence and got countless colonists on-board with the revolt. Paine became the voice of the movement and a celebrity among the lower ranks of British and French society across the Atlantic, who drew inspiration from his words and the struggle for freedom taking place in America. He moved to France to participate in their own revolution in the 1790s, but it ended up much bloodier and more contentious than what he was expecting. Paine was imprisoned for not loudly supporting the violence taking place, and he left his jail cell disillusioned but still eager to write and speak truth to power. His last work THE AGE OF REASON spoke out against organized religion for dividing instead of uniting people, which he saw first-hand in France, but this controversial text made him an outcast for the remainder of his life. Paine was a fighter from the very start, and he always put his country and the cause of freedom before himself.

It is common for contemporary history books to place a significant focus on the negative aspects of our Founding Fathers’ lives --- the ownership of slaves, elitism, heavy drinking --- and there is good reason for it. Too often history textbooks overlooked these facts in the past and only portrayed these men as honest, selfless men, which isn’t the whole truth. Marrin continues that trend, but he takes it a step farther to cast all of late 18th century history in a dark light, perhaps to a fault. For example, the French Revolution is explained as a terrible elite class of clergymen and landowners who oppressed the commoners, who get replaced by a murderous, terrible movement to take their power away from them, who are then replaced by an equally terrible military dictator named Napoleon. While there is truth to all of this, such a heavy focus on the negative aspects of history might not inspire young readers to look much further into the subject. These people were flawed, as people are today, but they did remarkable things that had unquestionably positive effects that need to be appreciated. This book begins with a description of how ugly Thomas Paine was, and it ends with him dying sad and alone. Again, this is all true, but these darker details overshadow the very positive fact that this man defined what America stood for in his writings that changed world history.

THOMAS PAINE: CRUSADER FOR LIBERTY would be a useful addition to any school library for the dearth of information it contains over a wide range of historical events, and it could be very helpful to a student writing a report on the Founding Fathers. This is not a first-choice book for a young reader looking for a recreational or casual read, but it contains all the facts a student could ever need to know about Paine and his times.  

Reviewed by Rob Bentlyeewski on July 25, 2016

Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty: How One Man's Ideas Helped Form a New Nation
by Albert Marrin