“Gripping . . . Vibrant . . . A wonderfully absorbing and stimulating book.” —Sarah Bakewell, NBCC Award–winning author of How to Live and Humanly Possible
“[A] rollicking account . . . The book’s compulsive readability is a tribute to Moore’s skill at cracking open the pre-revolutionary period.” —Charles Arrowsmith, The Washington Post
A spirited group biography that explores the origins of the most iconic words in American history, and the remarkable transatlantic context from which they emerged.
The most famous phrase in American history once looked quite different. “The preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness” was how Thomas Jefferson put it in the first draft of the Declaration, before the first ampersand was scratched out, along with “the preservation of.” In a statement as pithy—and contested—as this, a small deletion matters. And indeed, that final, iconizing revision was the last in a long chain of revisions stretching across the Atlantic and back. The precise contours of these three rights have never been pinned down—and yet in making these words into rights, Jefferson reified the hopes (and debates) not only of a group of rebel-statesmen but also of an earlier generation of British thinkers who could barely imagine a country like the United States of America.
Peter Moore’s Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness tells the true story of what may be the most successful import in US history: the “American dream.” Centered on the friendship between Benjamin Franklin and the British publisher William Strahan, and featuring figures including the cultural giant Samuel Johnson, the ground-breaking historian Catharine Macaulay, the firebrand politician John Wilkes, and revolutionary activist Thomas Paine, this book looks at the generation that preceded the Declaration in 1776. Everyone, it seemed, had “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” on their minds; Moore shows why, and reveals how these still-nascent ideals made their way across an ocean and started a revolution.
Includes 16 pages of black-and-white images