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Thomas Paine (Very Interesting People) by…
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"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sun-shine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country: but he that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered: yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

Rousing words like these would not be heard today even on the loudest of cable news talk shows. Yet, here we are in one of a set of letters to Americans - from this Englishman - reading a call to action. It is said that George Washington had this read to his troops.

If you read his writings today, you may want to delete any evidence on your smartphone. Was he a libertarian? He wanted the smallest government. Was he a conservative? He wanted change and he wanted it now. Was he a socialist? an internationalist?

Yes, he apparently had a significant ego (maybe he just read his own writings at times) and his nationalist loyalties were a bit scattered through his life, but boy, he could arouse his readers.

So where does this sort of life get you? A few months in a French jail; six people at your funeral and your own remains get lost.

Even more than his politics (he really aimed his calls to people across nations), he wanted a base income - a kind of minimum wage - voting even for those not owning property (this was just too much for John Adams) and, hang on, he railed against all organized religions. He claimed to believe in one God but went after the Bible held tightly to the bosoms of those around him.

So who wants to write about this guy? Not many. Mark Philp is a reluctant scholar who seems to have drawn a short straw for this Oxford University Press edition of their Very Interesting People series.

The late Christopher Hitchens champions Paine. However, you can hear crickets when Paine's name comes up from many others.

Maybe it is time to read again his rousing writings and try to find the man. ( )
  Forthwith | May 6, 2015 |
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Some writers resist posthumous consensus.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199217564, Paperback)

Definitive, concise, and very interesting...From William Shakespeare to Winston Churchill, the Very Interesting People series provides authoritative bite-sized biographies of Britain's most fascinating historical figures - people whose influence and importance have stood the test of time. Each book in the series is based upon the biographical entry from the world-famous Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Very Interesting People series includes the following titles: 1.William Shakespeare by Peter Holland 2. George Eliot by Rosemary Ashton 3. Charles Dickens by Michael Slater 4. Charles Darwin by Adrian Desmond, James Moore, and Janet Browne 5. Isaac Newton by Richard S.Westfall 6. Elizabeth I by Patrick Collinson 7. George III by John Cannon 8. Benjamin Disraeli by Jonathan Parry 9. Christopher Wren by Kerry Downes 10. John Ruskin by Robert Hewison 11. James Joyce by Bruce Stewart 12. John Milton by Gordon Campbell 13. Jane Austen by Marilyn Butler 14. Henry VIII by Eric Ives 15. Queen Victoria by K. D. Reynolds and H. C. G. Matthew 16. Winston Churchill by Paul Addison 17. Oliver Cromwell by John Morrill 18. Thomas Paine by Mark Philp 19. J. M. W. Turner by Luke Herrmann 20. William and Mary by Tony Claydon and W. A. Speck

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:24 -0400)

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