It always amazes me when I read a biography about a famous man whose early life gave no indication of the exalted role he would someday play. Captain John Smith, for example – famous for his leadership role at Jamestown, not only engaged in piracy, but was also captured by Turks and sold as a slave! Thomas Paine’s life, while not so dramatic as Smith’s was equally shifting. He began his life building the “stays” or masts for ships, sailing on a privateer, and working as an excise man for the British empire. He ended it as the author of the masterful pamphlets Common Sense and The Rights of Man (among others) and thus acted as a primary instigator of both the American War for Independence and the French Revolution.
This biography seems to be designed for children, but truly the amount of Paine’s philosophy included makes it an interesting read for much older students. For myself, I found Paine’s opinions on issues like social ills, governmental obligations, and the meaning of freedom to be thought-provoking in the extreme. His perspective was not quite Christian (Paine was raised by an Anglican mother and a Quaker father, and developed an eclectic approach to religion), but it was largely influenced by Christian ideals.
The words “prostitutes” and “brothels” are included. Their context indicates that these are negative things, but offers no other clues as to what the words mean.
It is stated on page 22 that as a boy Thomas witnessed many hangings, and a woodcut is included of a hanging. (Mostly just blurry lines, but still.)
Many of the political cartoons of the day are included, some of which contain grotesque imagery. (Little devils influencing different writers, etc.)
Conclusion. I really enjoyed this biography. It will require a lot of processing on the part of the reader, but I think it is worthwhile.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret