by yuval levin
basic, 296 pages, $27.99
Edmund Burke, a native Dubliner from a religiously mixed marriage, wanted to become a public intellectual, and as part of Samuel Johnson’s circle, he came to think of himself “above all as a writer rather than a political thinker.” Through the patronage of the great Whig leader the Marquis of Rockingham, he was elected to a seat in the House of Commons in 1765 and for the next three decades would remain a central figure of British politics.
Thomas Paine, from the south of England, was imbued with the “stark moralism” of his father’s Quaker faith. His parents could afford only the first five years of grammar school, but the bookish Paine continued to seek “every spare moment to read, especially books of poetry, history, and science.”