cover image Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Britain and the American Dream

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Britain and the American Dream

Peter Moore. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (592p) ISBN 978-0-374-60059-4

Historian Moore (Endeavour) offers a rich and immersive intellectual history of the American Revolution focused on its roots in Enlightenment era Britain. At the center are six interconnected figures who embodied the “complex” relationship between England and its colonies in North America and whose ideas influenced the famous phrase “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence: founding father Benjamin Franklin, who spent much of the period in London, where he felt it was “his particular, peculiar destiny to be making America’s case alone”; journalist Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense “advocated for independence and nothing else”; lexicographer Samuel Johnson, a skeptic of “modern, progressive, Whiggish society” who argued that the colonists “wanted Britain to have dominion without authority, and for them to be subjects without subordination”; radical politician John Wilkes, whose slogan in the 1760s was “Wilkes and Liberty!”; republican sympathizer Catharine Macaulay, whose History of England would be more celebrated in America than Britain; and London printer William Strahan, whose friendship with Franklin was sorely tested by their differences of opinion over the proper relationship between the colonies and the Crown. The portrait of Franklin and Strahan’s relationship is especially well done, and Moore’s fluid prose is infused with the “boisterous” excitement of the era, when “people knew they were living at a loaded moment in history.” This is a pleasure. (June)