46 PAGES: Tom Paine, Common Sense
and the Turning Point to Independence
Calling Common Sense "the single most influential political work in American history," Liell, a member of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, asks how, in a mere 46 pages, Paine persuaded American colonists that the only solution to their quarrels with Britain was independence. Liell introduces the anonymous pamphleteer, Paine, a former civil servant who witnessed the crown's abuses and, as a disaffected Englishman, knew how to speak to the colonists. While they had asserted their rights as British subjects, Liell explains, Paine called upon them to claim the natural, God-given rights of all men. Significantly, he also gave Americans both an identifiable enemy in the person of George III and a higher purpose—not merely national independence but the cause of liberty itself. Charting the pamphlet's spread throughout the colonies, from prominent statesmen to common citizens, Liell cites astounding sales and quotes contemporaries on its popularity. If the book's first two parts, a minibiography of Paine and the exegesis of Common Sense, sound like lectures, this third part, with its stacked quotations and tiresome repetition, reads like a term paper. In the epilogue, Liell simply summarizes Paine's subsequent career as a political writer. This colorless book hardly seems just recognition for one of liberty's most dedicated spokesmen and his revolutionary pamphlet. (May)
Forecast:This is a selection of the History Book Club, Military Book Club and Reader's Book Club. A 50,000 first printing and blurbs from David McCullough and Joseph J. Ellis should spark sales.