Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word
by Sarah Jane Marsh
New Arrivals Island, 320 Mar
As a longtime American history buff, I still am consistently dismayed by how little I know about many historical personages, and Thomas Paine ranked among them. This very well-documented and engagingly-written children’s book helped me to remedy that in a quick read. For example, I didn’t know that the Englishman arrived in America (deathly sick from typhus) only about six months before the battles of Lexington and Concord that started the Revolutionary War. He published the pamphlet anonymously at first, due to the inflammatory nature of the word “Independence” at a time when most of the public were still seeking reconciliation with Britain, and due to the controversy the first printing of 1000 copies sold out in just 11 days. As the author tells us in an afterward, Adams and other leaders at the time all credited Paine’s pen with enlivening peoples’ spirits to accept the revolution more than any other writer at the time; and Paine’s words have still been used by modern presidents and leaders such as Barack Obama and John Kerry.
I really appreciated how the (first-time!) author used so many of Thomas Paine’s own powerful words in both her text as well as some of the illustrator’s lively illustrations – the words seem to flow vibrantly off the page. It’s easy to see how his Common Sense pamphlet became, proportional to the population at the time, the most widely read best-seller in American history! (according to biographer Harvey Kaye)
If you’re curious, you can read the text of Common Sense online.