Monday, March 6, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: A Mystery of Mysteries. The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe by Mark Dawidziak

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

A Mystery of Mysteries. The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe
by Mark Dawidziak is a new biography of the brilliant Edgar Allan Poe. Best remembered for his beautifully creepy poems and short horror stories, he was also a humorist, a detective story innovator, and a literary critic. 

Rather than starting as biographies typically do, with the subject’s early life, this book begins with the questions surrounding the mysterious circumstances of Poe’s death. Each chapter is introduced with more details about Poe’s last months (creeping up to his last weeks to his last days), then the bulk of each chapter walks the reader through Poe’s life chronologically. 

This format keeps the tension high as theories about the cause of Poe’s death are presented. The difficulty is not that there are no possibilities but that there are too many. Some (like murder and rabies) are discarded, but most of the various illness theories remain in the running. Dawidziak has his favorite, explained in the last chapter, but admits that even this can never be proved.

Edgar Allan Poe did not only have a mysterious death. He also had a short, productive, difficult, and brilliant life. A good deal of mythology has sprung up around him. Dawidziak debunks many of the myths. (Such as he was a habitual drunkard, a laudanum addict, and as gloomy and morose as the characters in his horror stories.) But debunking the myths does not make the man any less fascinating. If you’re interested in a quick study of Poe, this is a great place to start.

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