The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science

John Tresch. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-374-24785-0
Historian Tresch (The Romantic Machine) sheds light on Edgar Allan Poe’s engagement with science in this intriguing biography. In 1838, Tresch writes, Poe arrived in Philadelphia, “the nation’s most active center for scientific research,” and his immersion in the conversations among journalists, scientists, and artists who were discussing prominent scientific concerns, such as the tension “between hardheaded empiricism and controversial speculation” informed many of his best-known works. Tresch carefully reads Poe’s poems, stories, and essays, illustrating the ways that Poe balanced the literary with the scientific. “The Fall of the House of Usher,” for example, combined elements from gothic and fantastic tales with imagery from alchemy, and featured “the ethers, atmospheres, and energies of experimental science.” “The Purloined Letter,” meanwhile, sees Poe critiquing empirical and mathematical sciences: they were narrow, he argued, because they left no room for awe. While Tresch addresses the common impression of Poe as a “morbid dreamer” and a penniless writer, he takes things further by offering a nimble account of the emerging science of Poe’s day. Fans of Poe’s work—and science enthusiasts­—will appreciate Tresch’s fresh angle. (June)
Reviewed on : 03/31/2021
Release date: 06/15/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-1-250-84940-3
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