The Virginia Partners Bank Lecture
I first became interested in the story of Thomas Paine when I learned that his bones were missing. I had always thought of him as a minor footnote to history, but then discovered that in his own time, he’d been such an towering figure that one of his disciples, William Cobbett, enraged that Americans weren't giving Paine his due as a founding father, stole the bones out of his grave and shipped them to England. After Cobbett’s attempts to create a glorious Paine monument were thwarted by the crown, however, he began selling the bones to make money, which means that today, if you become publicly known as a Paine scholar, you will get phone calls and emails offering you femurs and tibias, and you will also learn that not only are Paine’s bones missing, but so are almost all of his papers, destroyed in a fire at a St. Louis Missouri storage facility.
The fundamentals of Paine are that he wrote the second most influential book in American history after Uncle Tom’s Cabin; that he is an historic American for helping start the Revolution and an historic Englishman for helping start the Labour Party, that he was at one time so famous, his colleagues included everyone from Washington to Robespierre; and that his life spanned one of the great epics in history, that incredible upheaval of the Enlightenment and the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions. Yet, because so much is missing, the life of Thomas Paine is filled with mysteries, which all would-be biographers are forced to solve at their peril.
Further Reading Resource List provided by CRRL
Speaker: Craig Nelson
CRAIG NELSON is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, as well as Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness, The Age of Radiance (a PEN Award Finalist chosen as one of the year’s best books by NBC News, the American Institute of Physics, Kirkus Reviews, and FlavorWire), The First Heroes, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations (winner of the Henry Adams Prize), and Let’s Get Lost (short-listed for W.H. Smith’s Book of the Year). His new book, V is for Victory: Franklin Roosevelt’s American Revolution and the Triumph of World War II, a detailed accounting of how FDR upended the United States to defeat both the Great Depression and Adolf Hitler, will be published by Scribner on June 6, 2023.
His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, Soldier of Fortune, Salon, National Geographic, The New England Review, Popular Science, California Quarterly, Blender, Semiotext(e), Reader’s Digest, and a host of other publications; he has been profiled in Variety, Interview, Publishers Weekly, and Time Out.
Before turning to writing, Nelson was vice president and executive editor of Harper & Row, Hyperion, and Random House, where he oversaw the publishing of twenty national bestsellers and worked with such authors as John Lennon, Andy Warhol, Lily Tomlin, Philip Glass, Rita Mae Brown, Steve Wozniak, David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, Alex Trebek, William Shatner, the Rolling Stones, Orson Welles, Robert Evans, and David Lynch.