MAN OF REASON: The Life of Thomas Paine by Alfred Owen Aldridge

MAN OF REASON: The Life of Thomas Paine

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Based on much hitherto unpublished material, this carefully documented study of Thomas Paine is perhaps the definitive biography of the author of The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, pamphleteer, inventor, indiscreet diplomat and a disinterested and egotistical hero of both the American and French Revolutions. Described by Gouverneur Morris as having ""an excellent Pen to write but a poor Head to think,"" Paine, born in England in 1737, son of a stay-maker, came to America in 1774 with letters from Benjamin Franklin, his friend, and at once plunged into revolution, helping unify the country by his pamphlets, Common Sense, advising Washington and serving less gloriously in the army. Going to France in 1787 to find money for an iron bridge he had built, he again became involved in upheaval and in 1791 he published his Rights of Man, a glorification of the principles of the French Revolution. Disillusioned when thrown in prison and nearly executed, he left France and in 1797 published The Age of Reason, an attack on organized religion as opposed to deism, which brought him violent notoriety as an atheist, which he was not. Lazy, brilliant, fond of brandy, the friend of Franklin, Jefferson and other great men, he was also slothful and inordinately vain; he himself ended his American prestige in 1797 by an open letter castigating Washington; in 1802, no longer famous but not impoverished, he died in Baltimore. Factual rather than exciting, this meaty book, fruit of years of research, fails to capture the vivid personality of its protagonist but as a historian's biography it is a valuable and much needed addition to the basic documents of American history. In no way intended for casual reading, it should find a permanent place in historical and larger public libraries.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1959
Publisher: Lippincott