A Revolutionary Read

paine.jpgIn this space I try to appeal to the masses. When I pick books I dwell on those most likely to tickle the fancy of a large segment of folks. That is, I strive to be inclusive. I am, after all, a big tent kind of bird.

But I just read a great book I want to tell you about even though it may not soon be on the Book Sense bestseller list.

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye adeptly traces the revolutionary spirit that runs through American history and this country’s foremost and oft overlooked founding father, Thomas Paine. Showing how Paine turned Americans into radicals — and how we have remained radicals at heart ever since — Kaye presents the nation’s democratic story with wit, subtlety, and passion.

Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age. Through writings such as Common Sense — and words such as “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth,” “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” and “These are the times that try men’s souls” — he not only turned America’s colonial rebellion into a revolutionary war but, as Kaye demonstrates, articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise.

Beginning with Paine’s life and ideas and following their vigorous influence through to our own day, this book reveals how, while the powers that be repeatedly sought to suppress, defame, and most recently co-opt Paine’s memory, generations of radical and liberal Americans turned to Paine for inspiration as they endeavored to expand American freedom, equality, and democracy.

This lucid work helps create a memorial to Paine, who is still shamefully unacknowledged by the democratic republic that he lived and died to bring about.

“The moment I finished this book (at four in the morning) I couldn’t wait to call Harvey Kaye and leave a message that I was suing him for inducing insomnia,” Bill Moyers says. “I couldn’t put the thing down! The story of Thomas Paine — then and now, for the man and his ideas are very much alive today — stirs the heart, moves the mind and routs the demon of despair. The best political book of the year!”

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