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The rhythm of Tom Paine's bones

Extract from Eoin Carter's review in The Freethinker, 9 February 2024


This is an academic work with a trick up its sleeve. On the face of it, it is a close scholarly study of Paine’s politics. Bush focuses on one principle - the rejection of hereditary power - that he takes to be central to Paine’s thought, his most original contribution to political debate. But read on, and you will realise something else is going on too. This is not just a book about Paine, it is a book about reading Tom Paine. About being inspired by Thomas Paine. Finally, it is about coming to terms with the fact that Tom Paine is dead.

Having given us a new intellectual biography of Paine’s thought, Polity’s second task is to write its obituary, recording how Paineism receded fitfully from prominence in British politics throughout the nineteenth century.

Taking these two halves in turn: in the first Bush wants to secure Paine’s reputation not just as a canny populariser and polemicist, but as a profound and original thinker in his own right. Overall, this is a provocative, refreshing new view of Paine.


Polity is a lucid demonstration that Paine’s writings are just as fruitful for intellectual history as any of his better-heeled colleagues. In focusing on the origin of one core principle, Bush can identify subtle continuities and contrasts with earlier writers that have often been drowned out by the crash and din of the Revolutionary era.

Read Eoin Carter's full review 'The rhythm of Tom Paine’s bones' In The Freethinker, 9 February 2024, on the 287th anniversary of Thomas Paine’s birth.

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