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Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: A Biography

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Thomas Paine was one of the greatest advocates of freedom in history, and his Declaration of the Rights of Man, first published in 1791, is the key to his reputation. Inspired by his outrage at Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution, Paine’s text is a passionate defense of man’s inalienable rights. Since its publication, Rights of Man has been celebrated, criticized, mali Thomas Paine was one of the greatest advocates of freedom in history, and his Declaration of the Rights of Man, first published in 1791, is the key to his reputation. Inspired by his outrage at Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution, Paine’s text is a passionate defense of man’s inalienable rights. Since its publication, Rights of Man has been celebrated, criticized, maligned, suppressed, and co-opted. But in Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, the polemicist and commentator Christopher Hitchens, “at his characteristically incisive best,” marvels at its forethought and revels in its contentiousness (The Times, London). Hitchens is a political descendant of the great pamphleteer, “a Tom Paine for our troubled times.” (The Independent, London) In this “engaging account of Paine’s life and times [that is] well worth reading” he demonstrates how Paine’s book forms the philosophical cornerstone of the United States, and how, “in a time when both rights and reason are under attack,” Thomas Paine’s life and writing “will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.” (New Statesman)


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Thomas Paine was one of the greatest advocates of freedom in history, and his Declaration of the Rights of Man, first published in 1791, is the key to his reputation. Inspired by his outrage at Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution, Paine’s text is a passionate defense of man’s inalienable rights. Since its publication, Rights of Man has been celebrated, criticized, mali Thomas Paine was one of the greatest advocates of freedom in history, and his Declaration of the Rights of Man, first published in 1791, is the key to his reputation. Inspired by his outrage at Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution, Paine’s text is a passionate defense of man’s inalienable rights. Since its publication, Rights of Man has been celebrated, criticized, maligned, suppressed, and co-opted. But in Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, the polemicist and commentator Christopher Hitchens, “at his characteristically incisive best,” marvels at its forethought and revels in its contentiousness (The Times, London). Hitchens is a political descendant of the great pamphleteer, “a Tom Paine for our troubled times.” (The Independent, London) In this “engaging account of Paine’s life and times [that is] well worth reading” he demonstrates how Paine’s book forms the philosophical cornerstone of the United States, and how, “in a time when both rights and reason are under attack,” Thomas Paine’s life and writing “will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.” (New Statesman)

30 review for Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “In a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.” ― Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man While there is no imperfect time to read about Thomas Paine or read Christop “In a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.” ― Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man While there is no imperfect time to read about Thomas Paine or read Christopher Hitchens, 2016 with Brexit and Trump seem to almost BEG for a steroid shot of rationality and intelligence. I read this because I was tired of the news, tired of the discourse, tired of FB debates and arguments that seemed inane and inept (I once saw a debate over some political issue that was carried out entirely using memes). I wondered how we could have dropped from a period where big ideas were discussed by big men (yes, and big women: see Mary Wollstonecraft) to this? Anyway, about 10 years ago The Atlantic Monthly Press published this book as part of their series Books that Changed the World. Think about this for a minute. Thomas Paine, a largely self-educated son of a corset-maker, wrote a book that would be included on a short list among such books as: 1. Holy Bible: King James Version 2. Machiavelli's The Prince 3. Plato's The Republic 4. Darwin's The Origin of Species 5. The Qur'an 6. Homer's The Iliad/The Odyssey 7. Smith's The Wealth of Nations 8. Clausewitz's On War 9. Marx's Das Kapital That isn't a lazy peer group. Think about this too. Thomas Paine had his fingers directly in two revolutions (American and French) and was working on a third (England). His words seem almost as natural as the Bible. His concepts are woven into the fabric of our modern sense of freedom, rights, democracy. He is THE prime example showing that simple words, in the right hands, can change the course of global events. Obviously, the French and American revolutions most certainly would have still happened without Thomas Paine, but the revolutions and the ideas behind them would not have been the same. This guy's words were matches of poetry AND power. It is amazing, also, for me to think Thomas Paine didn't produce just one revolutionary book/pamphlet, but three (more, but I'll focus on his big three). At different times of my life I have loved, reverenced, and revered Common Sense, The Age of Reason, and Rights of Man as THE great Paine book. Each seems destined to continue to be a source of inspiration and direction for those seeking freedom, rights, liberty, and justice. It is hard to imagine my country and the world as it would have been without him. If that isn't tribute enough, here is a final encomium from Bertrand Russell (this appears in the front of the book): "To all these champions of the oppressed Paine set an example of courage, humanity, and single-mindedness. When public issues were involved, he forgot personal prudence. The world decided, as it usually does in such cases, to punish him for his lack of self-seeking; to this day his fame is less than it would have been if his character had been less generous. Some worldly wisdom is required even to secure praise for the lack of it." - Bertrand Russell, The Fate of Thomas Paine

  2. 5 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    The Shifting Lights This book should be read along with Levin’s Great Debate. That will allow a right wing perspective to balance out a left wing perspective. It is very interesting to note how two authors with different viewpoints approach the same two protagonists and mould them to their requirements. With Paine and Burke this is easier because they lived through such momentous events that their ideas and actions can be seen differently depending on where the author chooses to stand. Lev The Shifting Lights This book should be read along with Levin’s Great Debate. That will allow a right wing perspective to balance out a left wing perspective. It is very interesting to note how two authors with different viewpoints approach the same two protagonists and mould them to their requirements. With Paine and Burke this is easier because they lived through such momentous events that their ideas and actions can be seen differently depending on where the author chooses to stand. Levin chooses to stand and judge both from a post-revolutionary viewpoint and exult in the fact that Burke knew the French Revolution would be disastrous while naive Paine precipitated the disaster by not realizing that human institutes and traditions can’t be just pulled down so easily without consequences. In fact, Levin chooses to examine Burke’s attitudes towards the American Revolution to show his progressive nature and then his attitude to French Revolution to show his wisdom; and Paine’s attitude during the pre-Revolutionary zeal to show how he was just a revolt-monger who has grand plans and no sense of the reality. Hitchens on the other hand chooses to view the debate from a pre-revolutionary position. This allows him to praise Paine for his contribution the American Independence and Constitution, showing his skills as a spokesman and influencer par compare. When Hitchens comes to Burke, he focuses on his opposition to the French Revolution and ridicules his passionate defense of monarchy. This allows Hitchens to show Paine as a progressive future-oriented leader who changed the course of history and Burke as a reactionary who just wants to hang on to the outdated age of chivalry. Of course, neither Paine nor Burke were consistently right throughout their political engagement. Both were probably right in supporting the American Revolution and both were perhaps wrong in their over-the-top attitudes to the French Revolution. But Hitchens and Levin combine to show us how just by shifting the viewpoints we can see them in such different lights — the naive and the wise keep shifting before our eyes like in a hall of mirrors. It is a spectacle.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sheila Rucki

    He smokes and drinks, is an atheist and actually seems to care about the debate between that old buzzkill Ed Burke and Thomas Pain. Wow. Plus he writes like a magnificent wreck of a genius with the voice of a sardonic angel. I love this man. I'd read his grocery list.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    Contents: Introduction 1. Paine in America 2. Paine in Europe 3. Rights of Man Part 1 4. Rights of Man Part 2 5. The Age of Reason Conclusion: Paine’s Legacy An excellent introduction to the history of Thomas Paine, his writings and his relevance; told with wit and wisdom. A remarkable man and a remarkable life. It’s hard to disagree with him, writing to George Washington in 1789, when he said (of himself): “A share in two revolutions is living Contents: Introduction 1. Paine in America 2. Paine in Europe 3. Rights of Man Part 1 4. Rights of Man Part 2 5. The Age of Reason Conclusion: Paine’s Legacy An excellent introduction to the history of Thomas Paine, his writings and his relevance; told with wit and wisdom. A remarkable man and a remarkable life. It’s hard to disagree with him, writing to George Washington in 1789, when he said (of himself): “A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose”. Paine certainly lived life to the full, and how..Apparently tipped off by William Blake to flee England and the forces of reaction he narrowly escaped execution in France in the wake of the Revolution there. This was just the right time for me to read this. Thank you Tom for making sense of the craziness going on all around me these days. One particularly inspiring quote (for me at least): “I have always strenuously supported the Rights of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it”. I love Paine’s ‘profession of faith’ too and can well relate to it: “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy and endeavouring to make our fellow creatures happy... I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit”.

  5. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    There may be no better candidate to write a biography of Thomas Paine than Christopher Hitchens. If not for purely academic reasons, they have much in common. Both were natural born Enlgishmen who wandered to the United States and liked it so much that they decided to stay. Both are world famous for the arcane art of polemics. Even their careers strangely mirror one another, marking an evolution from politics to religion, though never surrendering either. And lastly, both made it their life's am There may be no better candidate to write a biography of Thomas Paine than Christopher Hitchens. If not for purely academic reasons, they have much in common. Both were natural born Enlgishmen who wandered to the United States and liked it so much that they decided to stay. Both are world famous for the arcane art of polemics. Even their careers strangely mirror one another, marking an evolution from politics to religion, though never surrendering either. And lastly, both made it their life's ambition to pursue freedom at great personal cost. I've read much of Hitchens' work. He rarely is carried away by passion unless by design, but here one can clearly see the markings of a great respect and reverence for his subject. Thomas Paine was imperfect. He had his blunders, personal and political. In fact he almost lost his place among the founders when his opinions on religion (specifically the bible) became too radical for his adopted American homeland to stomach. In some respects this injustice still stands, but many efforts have been made in recent times to see that he is rightly placed among the Jeffersons and Madisons of the American Revolution. Paine was an abolitionist and a vocal one. He went to the place Thomas Jefferson saw dimly through the fog but never dared to go himself. While France was in the throes of its own revolution he urged that they exucute the monarchy, not the monarch--one wonders how history might have changed if they'd listened to him. His prose was by the standards of the day coarse, almost barbaric, something I imagine Hitchens also contends with when his style of demystification gouges the subject of readers' most sacred beliefs. Yet Paine's ability to reach the common man in common language without sacrificing the muscle and brute force of his argument should, as I've mentioned in previous reviews of his work, be the blueprint for written argument. In a strange way we have Paine to thank for a number of things, not the least of which is his crucial role in the American Revolution. His long-fought battle for the sake of reason and Enlightment principles has only become more valuable as time goes on; and, of course, his quest to defend the Rights of Man in the Age of Reason.

  6. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Wetherholt

    One of Hitchens' most earnest and least pompous works. His style at times can be irritating and prohibitive, as though needing to flash his intelligence so distinctly as though to belabor its presence. Many times, my response is to silently admonish him and say, "Quit showing off and say what you mean." This is not the case here. His prose was clear, intelligent, and unadorned with unnecessary verbiage. This is either a testament to his profound respect for Paine, or an editor took on One of Hitchens' most earnest and least pompous works. His style at times can be irritating and prohibitive, as though needing to flash his intelligence so distinctly as though to belabor its presence. Many times, my response is to silently admonish him and say, "Quit showing off and say what you mean." This is not the case here. His prose was clear, intelligent, and unadorned with unnecessary verbiage. This is either a testament to his profound respect for Paine, or an editor took one hell of a scythe to his usual style. But I'm guessing he felt the need to be earnest and even perhaps idolizes Paine enough so that Paine's words are not outshone. Instead the real sense of Paine's character, intellect, and no-nonsense sensibilities are profound, indicating truly why his work was so influential in Enlightenment thought. You can tell, too, that Hitchens is proud that like him, the man who is clearly one of his greatest heroes was born in England but was distinctly an American by the end of his life, enough to fight for the soul of the new republic, much like Hitchens did in his own life, and for his adopted country, the United States, two hundred years later.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vikas Lather

    "In a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend." I must beseech a disclosure that my review for this book should not be trusted as the book is written by my literary hero about my philosophical hero. So a certain degree of emotional and intellectual romance is natural and automatic. Thomas Paine had a hand in two greatest revolution- French & American. "In a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend." I must beseech a disclosure that my review for this book should not be trusted as the book is written by my literary hero about my philosophical hero. So a certain degree of emotional and intellectual romance is natural and automatic. Thomas Paine had a hand in two greatest revolution- French & American. He took considerable risk to spread enlightenment through self-printed pirate edition of his famous work Common Sense. He was the inspiration of Thomas Jefferson, Dr King and Lincoln. Above all he is the first men to use words man and rights in same sentence, which inspired the concept of Human rights. Edmund Burke, a man who was an ally of India, famously impeached Warren Hastings (the first Governor-General of Bengal) for corruption and the crimes he committed under the banner of The East Indian Company. I have deep admiration for Burke's heroic and humane actions but he was blind-folded with Christianity- he defended dictatorship, monarchy and authority, and criticized french revolution. Thomas Pain defended french revolution, human rights, democracy and freedom of expression. They had a literary battle that ranges to endless exchange of letters. Today, we have everything what Paine stood for and hence he is vindicated. To me, Paine's writing-Common Sense, rights of Man, Age of Reason and The Crisis- is the jewel in the crown of enlightenment. Perhaps, Christopher was wrong in saying, "Had there been no guillotine and no Bonaparte in the immediate future of France, Paine's rebuke to Burke might have been studied to this day as a proof of the superiority of the Enlightenment and of radicalism over the hidebound attachment to tradition, faith and order.", I feel regardless of guillotine and Bonaparte, Paine is still a wonderful proof of splendid triumph of the reason over faith.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    The best chapter is on Paine's 'Age of Reason', where Hitchens clearly takes great pleasure in recounting Paine: [Hitchens] He also cannot decide whether the supposed preachings of the Nazarene are admirable or not. In general, he follows the custom of most deists in rating the sermons and maxims as moral and 'amiable'. Yet he cannot conceal his contempt for the most central tenet of Christianity, which is the morally hideous concept of scapegoating or 'vicarious atonement': The best chapter is on Paine's 'Age of Reason', where Hitchens clearly takes great pleasure in recounting Paine: [Hitchens] He also cannot decide whether the supposed preachings of the Nazarene are admirable or not. In general, he follows the custom of most deists in rating the sermons and maxims as moral and 'amiable'. Yet he cannot conceal his contempt for the most central tenet of Christianity, which is the morally hideous concept of scapegoating or 'vicarious atonement': [Paine] If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself and pay it for me. But if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed. Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is no longer justice. It is indiscriminate revenge. [Hitchens] In other words, to hope to throw your sins upon another, especially if this involves a human sacrifice, is a grotesque evasion of moral and individual responsibility.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Apparently Thomas Paine was the man. This one is a little more straightforward and easier to read than the Jefferson book by Hitchens. Quotes: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Thomas Paine In the United States, he had sought to make the revolution more radical, especially with respect to slavery and freethinking and Apparently Thomas Paine was the man. This one is a little more straightforward and easier to read than the Jefferson book by Hitchens. Quotes: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Thomas Paine In the United States, he had sought to make the revolution more radical, especially with respect to slavery and freethinking and the extension of democracy, and had been on the ‘Left’ side of the debate. In France, he had sought to make the revolution more temperate and humane, taking his place to the ‘Right’ of the chair. He admired enterprise and distrusted government, and often wrote of economic inequalities as if they were natural or inevitable. “The aristocracy are not the farmers who work the land, and raise the produce, but are the mere consumers of the rent; and when compared with the active world are the drones, a seraglio of males, who neither collect the honey nor form the hive, but exist only for lazy enjoyment.” Thomas Paine Paine wanted to prevent the French Revolution from becoming a full-blown instatement of atheism. Much as he may have welcomed the end of the rotten alliance between the pulpit and throne, he was dismayed by the violent rush towards godlessness. “My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” Thomas Paine Even as late as my own childhood, the Church of England hymnal included as one verse in ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’: The rich man in his castle The poor man at his gate God made them high and lowly And ordered their estate. In a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eric Gulliver

    Although I do not have many good things to say about Hitchens, one compliment I must pay to him is to give much esteem to his biography writing. Hitchens never seems to miss small historical facts that bridge on fables, and thus, makes any reading concerning historical personalities that much more interesting to read about. This book is especially unique in its recollection of feuds, arguments, and conflicts that followed Paine throughout his life. The writing in this short book is concise yet d Although I do not have many good things to say about Hitchens, one compliment I must pay to him is to give much esteem to his biography writing. Hitchens never seems to miss small historical facts that bridge on fables, and thus, makes any reading concerning historical personalities that much more interesting to read about. This book is especially unique in its recollection of feuds, arguments, and conflicts that followed Paine throughout his life. The writing in this short book is concise yet dense. Hitchens does a superb job summarizing main points that Paine emphasized throughout his work along with depicting who and what may have influenced his thought. Hence, the reader gets an equal dose of information, theory, and historical context. Foremost among such example is the details surrounding Paine's travels, and how the political situations of any given country affected his perspective, and the most famous feuds that served as catalysts for his revolutionary thinking. One may recall here Paine's notorious feud with the father of ideological Conservatism Edmund Burke - a feud which drove much of Paine's responses in his Rights of Man. All in all, the book is a quick read but is filled with Hitchen's penchant for quirky anecdotes, brilliant analysis, and limitless intelligence - he never backs away from making apt philosophical and/or political comparisons and thus demonstrates his commandment of the subject matter. This is done humbly but effectively, all with due respect for Thomas Paine, which is the reason why I relish his historical/biographical writing that much much.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    As always, the erudite Mr. Hitchens entertains and wows with his vast knowledge of the intellectual arguments and issues of his day. However, he should not have been given the job of introducing a book in the Great Books Series. He does not give the reader a sense of the major arguments and premises of Paine's book, or why those premises and arguments changed the nature of the way humans see themselves and their relationship to government. Instead, he focuses on Paine's rivalry with Edmund Burke As always, the erudite Mr. Hitchens entertains and wows with his vast knowledge of the intellectual arguments and issues of his day. However, he should not have been given the job of introducing a book in the Great Books Series. He does not give the reader a sense of the major arguments and premises of Paine's book, or why those premises and arguments changed the nature of the way humans see themselves and their relationship to government. Instead, he focuses on Paine's rivalry with Edmund Burke and analyzes the text as a polemical response to Burke's reactionary Reflections on the Revolution in France. Though Mr Hitchens is spot on in his mano a mano account of Paine and Burke's battle, he reveals his own pamphleteering bias in his tight lens focus on the war of the pamphlets and "who said what, when they said it, why they said it, and how we know they said it." Hitchens comes across here, as he did in the book Why Orwell Matters, as less an explicator of the great ideas and themes of the author, and more as taking sides in the endless journalist war he sees himself the heir of. I can't help but compare this book with another book in the Great Books series I read earlier this year, on Marx's Capital, and how that author, Francis Wheen, so brilliantly shows why Capital shook the world and why it would never be the same once the book was published. Hitchens failed to achieve that kind of scope and perspective and an opportunity to really address why Paine's book continues to be read and indeed, in these troubled times (that try men's souls) continues to need to be read. Sadly disappointed at a missed opportunity.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Maughn Gregory

    Hitchens is a master philosopher / historian, who credits Thomas Paine with getting non-philosophers in Europe and America to talk about, and work and fight for, the idea of human rights that even governments and churches are obliged to honor. Paine also argued for church-state separation, against the authority (and morality) of the Bible, and against slavery and Native American genocide. Today, when Paine's philosophical, anti-liberal foe Edmund Burke is still being quoted by the likes of David Hitchens is a master philosopher / historian, who credits Thomas Paine with getting non-philosophers in Europe and America to talk about, and work and fight for, the idea of human rights that even governments and churches are obliged to honor. Paine also argued for church-state separation, against the authority (and morality) of the Bible, and against slavery and Native American genocide. Today, when Paine's philosophical, anti-liberal foe Edmund Burke is still being quoted by the likes of David Brooks, it's good to revisit Paine. Very poignantly, Hitchens wrote about the "buzzards" that circled Paine's deathbed, expecting and urging him to recant his anti-Christian views, six years before he himself was diagnosed with cancer and suffered the same kind of abuse. He writes: "Why this was thought to be valuable propaganda it is impossible to say. Surely the sobbing of a human creature in extremis is testimony not worth having, as well as testimony extracted by the most contemptible means?" (139) Hitchens followed Paine's noble example and "expired with his reason, and his rights, both still staunchly defended until the very last" (140).

  13. 4 out of 5

    William2

    This is a good introduction to Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and his works. It's main strength is the explication of the war of criticism waged between Paine and his conservative British (Tory) rival, Edmund Burke. Burke was a Monarchist who while possessing sympathy for the American Revolution was appalled by the French one. He is the perfect foil against which to expatiate upon Paine's modern sense of the common man's inalienable rights. Paine's Common Sense and Age of Reason are also summarized and their lit This is a good introduction to Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and his works. It's main strength is the explication of the war of criticism waged between Paine and his conservative British (Tory) rival, Edmund Burke. Burke was a Monarchist who while possessing sympathy for the American Revolution was appalled by the French one. He is the perfect foil against which to expatiate upon Paine's modern sense of the common man's inalienable rights. Paine's Common Sense and Age of Reason are also summarized and their literary-historical status delineated. Paine's overview of biblical inconsistencies in the latter work must have been especially fun for Hitchens--that staunch atheist--to discuss at length. Highly recommended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    A brilliant overview of Rights Of Man and the life of Tom Paine from a brilliant author.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Informative, witty summary of Paine's life and thought; the author obviously cares a great deal about the subjects he discusses. You learn a lot in a short book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

    I very much enjoyed this audiobook and seriously, who better to write a bio/critique of Thomas Paine i our day than Christopher Hitchens? A New Yorker review of the time of this publishing written by Jill Lepore opined: "Thomas Paine is, at best, a lesser Founder. In the comic-book version of history that serves as our national heritage, where the Founding Fathers are like the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends, Paine is Aquaman to Washington’s Superman and Jefferson’s Batman; we never find I very much enjoyed this audiobook and seriously, who better to write a bio/critique of Thomas Paine i our day than Christopher Hitchens? A New Yorker review of the time of this publishing written by Jill Lepore opined: "Thomas Paine is, at best, a lesser Founder. In the comic-book version of history that serves as our national heritage, where the Founding Fathers are like the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends, Paine is Aquaman to Washington’s Superman and Jefferson’s Batman; we never find out how he got his superpowers, and he only shows up when they need someone who can swim." Be that as it may, he wrote the all-time best selling pamphlet, and probably inspired as many colonists to join the cause as all of the Founders. If an exaggeration, I apologize. Moving on, I'll just say that Thomas Paine lived a life that is made for a novel or movie and happens to few people today. I find interesting here that Paine could write while in prison and quote the Bible verbatim, but has all kinds of issues with it. I realize that is part and parcel of the times to know the Bible, and Hitchens gives Paine some grief about using something that he was not clear about denouncing, but still impressive. All in all, I have listened to this twice and might at least once more before my Hoopla time is up. Audio is still a chore as I like to mark and annotate, but perhaps I understood this best of all audios so far. I only wish Hitch had been the narrator.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tom Rowe

    This book is a brief look at the biography and writings of Thomas Paine with analysis by Christopher Hitchens. It is a little short to be a proper biography of Paine, and goes more in depth on his writings. In the end, I wanted to put the book down and read more Paine. I would recommend Craig Nelson's Thomas Paine biography if you are looking for a biography. This is a nice supplement to reading Paine's writings.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Haplea

    In short, in my opinion, a disappointing book. Its subject is commentaries of “The rights of man” and “The age of reason” by Paine, two classic manifestos written with unsurpassed clarity, gusto and deep and convincing argumentation. The book’s commentaries, instead, are uninspired, pale and ambiguous remarks about the trustfulness and the genius of Paine, mixed up with chosen at random sketchy elements of his life; a total waste of time for both categories: the readers who have red Paine and th In short, in my opinion, a disappointing book. Its subject is commentaries of “The rights of man” and “The age of reason” by Paine, two classic manifestos written with unsurpassed clarity, gusto and deep and convincing argumentation. The book’s commentaries, instead, are uninspired, pale and ambiguous remarks about the trustfulness and the genius of Paine, mixed up with chosen at random sketchy elements of his life; a total waste of time for both categories: the readers who have red Paine and the ones who have not yet. The question at hand is: why to waste time reading this book, instead of reading the original, which at least is captivating, inspiring and a pleasure to read? Then the reader can have his own commentaries and opinions about the content and style. I have never believed in hearsays, I always try to get to the original, ignoring subjective commentaries or altered or non-trusted information. The same with this book: better read the original than parasitic and boring commentaries. This is the first book by Hitchens I read (I have a few ones unread on the shelf) and from it I do not understand the reputation I heard he enjoys; it does not bode well for his other books on the shelf. In short, my recommendation is to ignore this book, and instead read Thomas Paine’s writings, together with a short, honest and comprehensive biography of him. At least for me, this is time really well spent.

  19. 4 out of 5

    John

    Par for the course, Christopher Hitchens' brilliance shines on every single page, not least of all the ones that are the most bland. For someone familiar with Paine in a vague sense, this was a helpful little intro to his life and his work. Only several chapters long, the book provides a good lay of the land concerning Paine's course of life, related motivations, and finally the major works that were able to spring from such ground. A very nice bonus when reading these sorts of books, at least t Par for the course, Christopher Hitchens' brilliance shines on every single page, not least of all the ones that are the most bland. For someone familiar with Paine in a vague sense, this was a helpful little intro to his life and his work. Only several chapters long, the book provides a good lay of the land concerning Paine's course of life, related motivations, and finally the major works that were able to spring from such ground. A very nice bonus when reading these sorts of books, at least the ones that are well done, is that you get a hodgepodge of historical reminders as well as new trinkets to marvel at. The relationships with John Adams (so prickly!), Thomas Jefferson, and others are brought to life through surveying this one man's journey. Furthermore, when someone such as Christopher is at the helm, you get all sorts of other points of literary and philosophical connection: John Locke, Karl Marx, and a host of other intellectual giants that ultimately shaped our present age. It accomplishes what I imagine it was set out to do: inform the mind and pique the interest. I'll certainly be devoting some time in the near future both to reading more accounts of Paine's life and works as well as the works themselves.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mohammed Al-Garawi

    This is the first biographical work I read by Hitchens, and it's just amazing how he brilliantly shines through someone else's life story. The book takes you through the major stages in the life of one of the most important figures in human history, the political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary, Thomas Paine. A very good start for the uninitiated in American history and the inception of human rights. This made me super stoked to read This is the first biographical work I read by Hitchens, and it's just amazing how he brilliantly shines through someone else's life story. The book takes you through the major stages in the life of one of the most important figures in human history, the political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary, Thomas Paine. A very good start for the uninitiated in American history and the inception of human rights. This made me super stoked to read Hitchens piece on Thomas Jefferson.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cody Scott

    Yet another fantastic work by Hitchens. A whole new take on Thomas Paine and the unalienable rights of man beautifully written from a brilliant/ non-cliche point of view. There are so many interesting and funny facts about Paine picked up in this book as well. A must read for a reader of rights and a reader of Hitchens

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dayla

    Hitchens' work here is so interesting because he came from England and then became an American citizen. Paine also came from England, and became an American, too. Very well written and some portions are even brilliantly written.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Hitch at his best. In a perfect world, Christopher Hitchens will be permitted to narrative the entirety of human history...maybe in heaven? (which, naturally, doesn't exist)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ben Cullimore

    Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: A Biography does exactly what it says on the tin, and with great insight, passion and wit to boot. Christopher Hitchens not only examines Rights of Man and the impact it had - and continues to have - on enlightened and reasoned thinking but also explains the manner in which this fantastic book came to be. He manages to get right to the heart of the fascinating debate between Paine and Edmund Burke, and throughout shows great respect and admiration towards one of the Enlightenme Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: A Biography does exactly what it says on the tin, and with great insight, passion and wit to boot. Christopher Hitchens not only examines Rights of Man and the impact it had - and continues to have - on enlightened and reasoned thinking but also explains the manner in which this fantastic book came to be. He manages to get right to the heart of the fascinating debate between Paine and Edmund Burke, and throughout shows great respect and admiration towards one of the Enlightenment's most influential thinkers. Hitchens helps to make sense of both Rights of Man and Reflections on the Revolution in France (the work by Burke to which Paine was directly replying) by contextualising their main arguments and closely examining the lives of the two men that wrote them. When directly concentrating on Paine, he shows with great passion and vigour the ways in which he not only directly contributed to the American Revolution but also laid the philosophical foundations for the modern welfare state with his impassioned pleas for the amelioration of poverty and want. Paine wasn't without his faults, however, and Hitchens is quick to admit this. He is prepared to both challenge and praise, and he also includes and an interesting section on The Age of Reason, Paine's erudite argument against institutionalised religion and the legitimacy of the Bible that was poorly received by several of the Founding Fathers that were initially so enamoured with him. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Paine should not only be counted as one of the primary Enlightenment thinkers, but one of the finest liberal minds the world has ever seen. As Hitchens poignantly ends: "In a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend."

  25. 4 out of 5

    John Allen

    Let me begin this 2 star review with a note of the fact that I greatly admired Hitch. But this is no where near accessible enough to be considered a biography. Of course Hitchens is brilliant in his dissection and interpretation of what Paine wrote and did during the tumultuous political time in which he lived. Of course Hitchens is unforgiving of those not already familiar with the milieu of details behind the events that occurred in that particular timeframe. While this can be overlooked in ma Let me begin this 2 star review with a note of the fact that I greatly admired Hitch. But this is no where near accessible enough to be considered a biography. Of course Hitchens is brilliant in his dissection and interpretation of what Paine wrote and did during the tumultuous political time in which he lived. Of course Hitchens is unforgiving of those not already familiar with the milieu of details behind the events that occurred in that particular timeframe. While this can be overlooked in many of his other works, biographies should be accessible for the layman who wishes to get a better grasp on the man they are reading about. This is far from it. Nor is it even really a biography, as most of what Hitchens discusses involves the motivations and circumstances of a selection of particular political actions Paine took during his equally tumultuous life. To be honest I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked this up to read. I suppose at the very least I was hoping to find a critical interpretation of Rights of Man, or Common Sense, from one of my favorite thinkers. On pp 140, 141 you have a poem written by Arthur O'Connor and a subtle yet brilliant re-interpretation of it. There are various moments throughout this book that contain similar insight and illumination. But it wasn't enough to make this the kind of book I was hoping for.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Fitzpatrick

    Dedicated to Jalal Talabani, the first elected president of the Republic of Iraq, and starting with quotes from renowned writers such as Bob Dylan, William Wordsworth, and Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchen's "Thomas Paine's Rights of Man" is a clear-eyed exploration of the life and work of polemicist Thomas Paine, author of such works as "Common Sense" and "The Crisis." However, one should not think of this slight tome as an exercise in blind hagiography, devoid of criticism and context, for Dedicated to Jalal Talabani, the first elected president of the Republic of Iraq, and starting with quotes from renowned writers such as Bob Dylan, William Wordsworth, and Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchen's "Thomas Paine's Rights of Man" is a clear-eyed exploration of the life and work of polemicist Thomas Paine, author of such works as "Common Sense" and "The Crisis." However, one should not think of this slight tome as an exercise in blind hagiography, devoid of criticism and context, for Hitchen's focus is also on writers who informed Paine's work, such as Hobbes, Locke, and Edmund Burke. Reading this book is doubly rewarding for one can sense Hitchen's deep engagement with the whole project of the Enlightenment, especially when he treats Paine's own aversion for organized religion. In addition, the small length of the book, combined with its sparkling prose, make it the perfect introduction to the life and work of this highly influential figure. All around, this is a fine primer for those interested reasoned critiques of early modern politics; it also gives hope to readers who believe in the value of reasoned discourse, a sometimes sadly slighted cohort.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    A short political-literary biography of one of Chris Hitchen's heroes and role models, Thomas Paine. Just a pleasure to read. I especially enjoyed learning: The actual usage of Samuel Johnson's "...last refuge of a scoundrel" comment. That the key to the Bastille hangs at Mt. Vernon to this day. The origin of the association of May Day with labor. That Paine may have coined the name, The United States of America. Paine's involvement with the French Revolution and h A short political-literary biography of one of Chris Hitchen's heroes and role models, Thomas Paine. Just a pleasure to read. I especially enjoyed learning: The actual usage of Samuel Johnson's "...last refuge of a scoundrel" comment. That the key to the Bastille hangs at Mt. Vernon to this day. The origin of the association of May Day with labor. That Paine may have coined the name, The United States of America. Paine's involvement with the French Revolution and his imprisonment there. The origin of the association of "left" and the "right" with liberal and conservative. The actual usage of Karl Marx's "...opiate of the masses" comment. The amount of the Declaration of Independence that comes from Locke. In the discussion of The Age of Reason, CH cannot restrain himself from almost participating in Paine's attack on organized religion, but far from being a detriment to the work, I found it as much a pleasure as watching old videos of Hitchens on YouTube.

  28. 5 out of 5

    J

    I should say up front that Christopher Hitchens is an intellectual hero of mine. There are places where our opinions diverge (the war in Iraq comes to mind), but we disagree even with those we love and value the most at some point. That aside, I thought this book was fantastic. Who is Thomas Paine? A few weeks ago I would have said..."a historical figure ostensibly connected to the founding of the United States?" Well, I wouldn't have been entirely wrong, but I'd have been missing so much. I should say up front that Christopher Hitchens is an intellectual hero of mine. There are places where our opinions diverge (the war in Iraq comes to mind), but we disagree even with those we love and value the most at some point. That aside, I thought this book was fantastic. Who is Thomas Paine? A few weeks ago I would have said..."a historical figure ostensibly connected to the founding of the United States?" Well, I wouldn't have been entirely wrong, but I'd have been missing so much. This book is less a biography and more a biographical overview of Thomas Paines' role in the American (and French) Revolution(s). That being said, this should not be misunderstood as something for only history fiends to engage with. Hitchens was a brilliant man with a seemingly unending wealth of meaningful knowledge in his brain, and in this book he shines a light on the history of the United States, and by extension, invites us to reexamine the ideas we might deem worth defending even now in 2019.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael Anderson

    This is less a biography than an insightful introduction to Thomas Paine and his works, including the Age of Reason and, in more detail, The Rights of Man. Beautifully and succinctly written by Hitchens (I can hear him reading it out loud as I go), it told me things I did not know before and made clearer what I did already know. Paine was a brilliant, not very diplomatic, man, who gave the world excellent direction on both political and religious systems and upset many people while doing so. He This is less a biography than an insightful introduction to Thomas Paine and his works, including the Age of Reason and, in more detail, The Rights of Man. Beautifully and succinctly written by Hitchens (I can hear him reading it out loud as I go), it told me things I did not know before and made clearer what I did already know. Paine was a brilliant, not very diplomatic, man, who gave the world excellent direction on both political and religious systems and upset many people while doing so. He deserved better treatment by America.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ottootto

    Christopher Hitchens is what he is, but is always a little disappointing. For me the disappointment started when I realized this wasn't Thomas Paino's The Rights of Man, but was a humanist biography instead. The rest is familiar: the perspective and research in chapters 1 through 3 were interesting and engaging, but didn't lead me to the same conclusions they lead Hitchens. In the end, of course, Paine curses God and dies, and his end is similar in that way to accounts of Hitchens own. Not as in Christopher Hitchens is what he is, but is always a little disappointing. For me the disappointment started when I realized this wasn't Thomas Paino's The Rights of Man, but was a humanist biography instead. The rest is familiar: the perspective and research in chapters 1 through 3 were interesting and engaging, but didn't lead me to the same conclusions they lead Hitchens. In the end, of course, Paine curses God and dies, and his end is similar in that way to accounts of Hitchens own. Not as inspiring to me as to others.

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