Member Reviews

“A Mystery of Mysteries,” by Mark Dawidziak (ISBN 9781250792495), Published Date: 14 February 2023, earns four stars.

Most likely know Edgar Allen Poe only for some of his stories and poems, and they likely only know his visage from one or two photographs taken in his very last, tough years. This book lets us know he was more—so much more.

Poe, or as he was known by many (including himself), Eddy, was and remains shrouded in mystery, though the book is still greatly enlightening. In his life, he strove to be a poet on the order of Lord Byron, but Poe always thought he was unsuccessful in that. Ironically, in the end, Poe eclipsed Byron.

Despite his continuing popularity today, he struggled his entire life due to his family situation, his loves, his economic privations, his frustrated professional aspirations, and his inner demons. We learn of his parents’ early deaths, his adoption and his stepfather’s poor treatment, his London boarding school experience, his military service (including at the US Military Academy), and more.

This book gives us a different sense of the man. Ultimately, we learn Poe was ill-used by life and others. Despite this, Poe is more popular than ever due to his original and lasting brilliance as a writer, editor, poet, and literary critic—even though Poe, like the painter Van Gogh after him, tragically received little or no compensation for his work during his lifetime, which could've made all the difference.

In sum, this book is a fascinating and informative read but alas, it is uneven in its delivery—hence the rating of four stars. Stronger editing could’ve addressed this. To its credit, this book shines a light on Poe’s earliest days to his last moments. Frustratingly, though, his last days just before he was discovered collapsed on the streets remain a mystery.

Sincere thanks to the author, and Kindle E-Publishing, for granting this reviewer the opportunity to read this Advance Reader Copy (ARC), and thanks to NetGalley for helping to make that possible.

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A Mystery of Mysteries is the final line from an Edgar Allen Poe poem. It also is the crux of the way and reasons that Poe died.
There are lots of stereotypes about Poe the drunkard with various stories about his death but Dawidziak explores more fully the death and what it reveals about his life. Offering more insight into the possible ways that Poe died than most, we come more fully to understand the man instead of the myth.
If you like Poe the enigma you will enjoy this glimpse into the man.

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This book was sent to me by Netgalley for review. Thanks to the publisher for the electronic copy. Poe…the best…this book brings new insights and facts to light…intriguing…mysteries…questions…answers…don’t miss this book…

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This exhaustively-researched book seeks to discover Edgar Allen Poe’s cause of death.
Mark Dawidziak has pulled out all the stops to this end, interviewing modern Poe experts and doctors we well as combining reports made by friends at the time of his death in Baltimore, October 7, 1849, when Poe was only forty years old. It was a weird scene—Poe had been missing for three days and was found fevered, hallucinating, and wearing someone else’s clothing. His friends were horrified at his condition. He’d been desperately trying to raise money and drinking, but none of them had ever seen him is such a state.

Ever since his death, rumors have circulated about its cause. Was it alcoholism? Tuberculosis? Syphilis? Murder? Is it possible even to know so long after his death?

Dawidziak shifts between his research on Poe’s cause of death and an exploration of his life. The cliche image of pale and haunted Poe writing by single candle in a garret is just that. Poe was a social and friendly man, good company, an excellent lecturer, and dedicated to writing. The real cause of death would have to be poverty, because, although Poe may have seemed courtly his one set of clothes was mended and brushed, he was shabby and malnourished. Desperation wafted off him as he struggled to support his mother-in-law and wife. He had fingers in many pies, he had a fine reputation as a writer and his work very popular, but he was buckling under the weight of his responsibilities.

And then there’s the drinking. Poe had a way of sabotaging himself with drink, ruining many of the most promising opportunities he had to get a leg up. It took little for him to get drunk and the results lasted for days. Life was grim and hard in 1840’s America and Poe’s life seemed especially so.TB was the cause of death for his mother, wife, brother, and beloved foster mother.

I don’t want to spoil things, but Dawidziak recognizes that we will never know what Edgar Allen Poe died of. “A Mystery of Mysteries” presents a detailed portrait of someone who brought a new genre to life and guaranteed its survival, while his own death remains the kind of mystery he would have loved.

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