The twentieth century's greatest American dissenter has written a study of the five men whose own dissents helped shape the western world -- Socrates, Galileo, Tom Paine, Wendell Phillips, and Gandhi. Conformity to custom, Mr. Thomas believes, is essential to the human community; it provides a base for judgment and security, Progress, however, depends on those who go beyond custom in search of the truth and thus cause us to reappraise our loyalties. Heresy, then, is the growing part of the social tree. Mr. Thomas has chosen men whose dissents were not born of rebellious natures, subjective tensions, or mystic convictions that a new conformity should replace the old. Rather their dissents were forced upon them by their discovery of truth. They were men whose dissents led to progress in the evolution of man's society.
Socrates, the first civil libertarian who paid for his beliefs with his life but led mankind into the revelations of logic; Galileo, a conformist at heart whose acknowledgment of observable truths forced dissent upon him; Tom Paine, catalyst of the American Revolution, yet a man of peace; Gandhi, perhaps the most effective dissenter of modern history; and Wendell Phillips, patrician, man of inherited wealth, and almost forgotten as one of the greatest abolitionists. Mr. Thomas tells their stories and excitement and with deep awareness of the implications for our time.