There are few better guides to the “long eighteenth century” that J. C. D. Clark
, emeritus professor of history at the University of Kansas, whose sequence of ground-breaking books have contested prevailing assumptions about religion, politics and early modernity even as they have worked to construct a chastened but compelling account of British and American society from the Restoration to the Great Reform Act. In his new book, Thomas Paine: Britain, America, and France in the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution
(Oxford University Press, 2018), Professor Clark works to deconstruct grand narratives of the “rise of modernity” and the political hagiography that so often surrounds his subject. Paine emerges from this account as an individual whose contribution was made in terms of the traditional language of English reformism as well as the recently established arguments of deism, and whose contribution to the American and French revolutions was accidental – and perhaps even incidental. In this exciting new book, Clark emphasizes Paine’s importance – but not in the ways that we might expect.
Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast. His research interests focus on the history of puritanism and evangelicalism, and he is the author most recently of John Owen and English Puritanism (Oxford University Press, 2016).