The Trouble With Tom

The Trouble With Tom

The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine

Book - 2005
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Paul Collins travels the globe piecing together the missing body and soul of one of our most enigmatic founding fathers: Thomas Paine.

A typical book about an American founding father doesn't start at a gay piano bar and end in a sewage ditch. But then, Tom Paine isn't your typical founding father. A firebrand rebel and a radical on the run, Paine alone claims a key role in the development of three modern democracies. In death, his story turns truly bizarre. Shunned as an infidel by every church, he had to be interred in an open field on a New York farm. Ten years later, a former enemy converting to Paine's cause dug up the bones and carried them back to Britain, where he planned to build a mausoleum in Paine's honor. But he never got around to it. So what happened to the body of this founding father?

Well, it got lost. Paine's missing bones, like saint's relics, have been scattered for two centuries, and their travels are the trail of radical democracy itself. Paul Collins combines wry, present-day travelogue with an odyssey down the forgotten paths of history as he searches for the remains of Tom Paine and finds them hidden in, among other places, a Paris hotel, underneath a London tailor's stool, and inside a roadside statue in New York. Along the way he crosses paths with everyone from Walt Whitman and Charles Darwin to sex reformers and hellfire ministers--not to mention a suicidal gunman, a Ferrari dealer, and berserk feral monkeys.

In the end, Collins's search for Paine's body instead finds the soul of democracy--for it is the story of how Paine's struggles have lived on through his eccentric and idealistic followers.

Publisher: New York : Bloomsbury : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2005
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9781582345024
Branch Call Number: 320.51 Collins
320.51 Collins
Characteristics: 278 p. : map ; 22 cm


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IndyPL_SteveB Nov 26, 2018

This might be the funniest book of American history you will ever read, with side excursions into phrenology, the fad of octagon houses, bone collectors, women's rights, murder, and what is possibly the weirdest children's book ever written. But it is also a biography of Thomas Paine himself with a new perspective on how we build up heroes, tear them down, and then sometimes build them up again.

The firebrand writer Thomas Paine was credited with starting both the American and French Revolutions; but, after his anti-Christian book *The Age of Reason* was published, he ended his life as “the most hated man in the world.” He wasn't allowed to be buried in a church cemetery and his bones were divided up and buried in several places. In this quirky and thoughtful book, Collins follows what happens to Paine’s bones after his death, while tracing Paine’s influence on American history and on the writing of modern biographies.

After you read this, you may want to go back and read *Common Sense*, the book which riled up the American colonists in 1776 (Paine sold 500,000 copies in a time when the total population of the 13 colonies was only about 2 1/2 million people, many of whom were illiterate). It is still readable and forceful today.


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