A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe by Mark Dawidziak lays out why we all are still obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe and his death long after he has passed. And that the mystery of his death, and the intrigue around it, explains him, his life, and his work more than we think it does.

This book is perfect for those just getting acquainted with Poe’s biography. It is thrilling and entertaining to read. Although Poe was such an enigmatic and eccentric person, his biography is bound to be interesting regardless, even (and especially) if Poe fabricated portions of his own biography himself.

Dawidziak does an excellent job detailing that Poe’s life had no traditional trajectory whatsoever and how and where he is often misunderstood and misrepresented. For instance, Poe was much more athletic than we remember, a lot funnier, wrote when he was sober (which was at least most of the time), and was crucial in paving the way for famous mystery series so that they could be more literary and popular, like those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.

So, what are we to believe about Poe? This book will have you attempting to answer this question over and over again as you follow the trail of clues of his life and death. Although you may not get the solid answer you’re looking for, which is most likely the point.

He views himself separated from the masses not by class but by intellect, sensitivity, and genius. Yet, at the same time, he craves a place in the august circles where he is granted admittance but never full acceptance.

So it’s possible that Poe is trying to occupy a lot of different worlds at the same time. It allows him to observe a lot of human nature across a wide spectrum.

p. 53-54

Another thing worth mentioning is that this book has a unique and compelling format, in which the chapters rotate between his life and death until the end of the book where they meet.

Overall, I would recommend this book to those just getting acquainted with Poe. Or those who want to question what they think they know about Poe. However, I must admit that adding more detail and organization to each theory surrounding Poe’s death, as well as his work and character, would have benefited it greatly. This book could easily be 100 or so pages longer, and still be missing much.

At times it was also hard to follow which theory of Poe’s death or presumed character I was reading about and why I was reading certain anecdotes about Poe. Of course, all the anecdotes were interesting, but sometimes certain anecdotes seemed randomly thrown into a chapter, not connected to a larger point, although this did only occur a few times. Additionally, more examples of Poe’s work, and criticisms of it– tied to the theories of his death and life–would have added greatly to an otherwise well-researched, fun, and compelling book.

So the mystery of Poe’s death becomes an enduring part of the wonder that he is the most alive writer in the world today. Never mind the clunky dying words attributed to him… The line that best suits his last moment in Baltimore is…”I am dying, yet shall I live.”


My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

For more information about this novel, see the summary of A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe on Goodreads.

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