A recasting of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense into more familiar, approachable prose.
The 1776 publication of Paine’s pamphlet was a momentous historical event. It contributed to the debate about the Colonies separating from England, and it effectively captured the political implications of accepting the doctrine of natural rights. Debut author Scott argues that the Founding Father’s arguments should interest everyone, not just Americans, as “Many of these issues have ramifications and rely on principles that affect people around the world.” However, the work’s archaic language, he says, makes it largely inaccessible. In order to rectify this, he’s rendered the entire work into plain, contemporary parlance while also preserving its original meaning. Scott faithfully follows Paine’s original structure, maintaining the same sequence of chapters and leaving the historical references unchanged. He doesn’t provide a running, interpretive commentary, but he does preface his revision with a very brief synopsis of the events leading up to the book’s publication and to the Revolutionary War. The author does largely achieve his overall aim, meticulously employing terminology and sentence structures that modern readers will indeed find more familiar. However, his claim that the pamphlet’s original prose is virtually unintelligible is vastly overstated. Consider this line from Paine’s actual work: “And there is no instance, in which we have shewn less judgment, than in endeavouring to describe, what we call, the ripeness or fitness of the Continent for independance.” Here’s Scott’s reworking: “In every instance, good judgment has shown and described the ability of America to be independent.” The former doesn’t seem that confusing, and the latter doesn’t seem all that different. However, Paine’s famously inflammatory prose—no small part of the pamphlet’s historical success—has been thoroughly domesticated throughout.
A book that makes a landmark work easier to read but robs it of much of its verve.