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Thomas Paine and the Promise of America
Synopses & Reviews
America's unfinished revolution
The revolutionary spirit that runs through American history and whose founding father and greatest advocate was Thomas Paine is fiercely traced in Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. Showing how Paine turned Americans into radicals and how we have remained radicals at heart ever since Harvey J. Kaye presents the nation's democratic story with wit, subtlety, and, above all, passion.
Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age. Through writings like 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, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America 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.
"Kaye offers a masterful and eloquent study of the man he reestablishes as the key figure in the American Revolution and the radical politics that followed it. Focusing on close readings of Paine's major writings, Kaye devotes the first half of the book to Paine's role in the seething fervor for American liberty and independence and his influence on the French Revolution. In Common Sense (1763), which sold 150,000 copies in just a few months, Paine advocated self-government and democracy in the colonies, accused the British of corruption and tyranny, and urged 'Americans' to rebel. He championed representative democracy and argued that government should act for the public good. Paine's contributions were not limited to his own time; Kaye traces Paine's influence on American rebels and reformers from William Lloyd Garrison and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs in the second half of his book. In 1980, Ronald Reagan quoted him — 'We have it in our power to begin the world over again' — in his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention. As historian Kaye (The American Radical) points out, Paine — 'the greatest radical of a radical age' — would have been surprised to learn that conservatives, whose values he opposed, had used his words in their cause. 25 illus. not seen by PW. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"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!" Bill Moyers
"What a reincarnated Paine would say about our altered political and intellectual landscape is impossible to know. Kaye hears his voice more clearly and unambiguously than I do, a clarity of conviction that I envy." New York Times
Thomas Paine has at last found a worthy defender in Harvey Kaye, a gifted historian whose account of Paine is nearly as lively and feisty as its subject." Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America
"Harvey Kaye's lucid work helps create the free citizen's memorial to Thomas Paine, who is still shamefully unacknowledged by the democratic republic that he lived and died to bring about." Christopher Hitchens
"For two centuries, Americans have fought for possession of Tom Paine's soul at least as vigorously as our ancestors fought over his literal bones. Harvey Kaye tells the tale well, and a revelatory tale it is." Todd Gitlin, author of The Intellectuals and the Flag
"Harvey J. Kaye recovers 'common sense' for our own time. This is a major contribution to understanding the American promise of freedom, equality, and the revolutionary tradition." Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women's Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
"In this fascinating study, Harvey Kaye rediscovers Thomas Paine's central place in an American radical tradition stretching from the Revolution to the present, and reminds us how Paine's words still resonate in American society today." Eric Foner, Columbia University
"Kaye convincingly shows that for two hundred years Americans have not only constantly read and quoted Tom Paine, but also, in their repeated invocations of him, kept the radicalism of their great political experiment forever alive." Isaac Kramnick, Professor of Government at Cornell University
"Scrupulously researched, wonderfully written, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America is a book that has found its time." Paul Buhle, Brown University and co-editor, The Encyclopedia of the American Left
Showing how Paine turned Americans into radicals, the author presents the nation's democratic story with wit, subtlety, and, above all, passion. Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age.
Thomas Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age. Through writings like 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 Harvey J. Kaye demonstrates, articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise.
About the Author
Harvey J. Kaye is professor of Social Change and Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, an award-winning author and the editor of numerous books on history and politics.
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