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Reviews of A Mystery of Mysteries by Mark Dawidziak

A Mystery of Mysteries

The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe

by Mark Dawidziak

A Mystery of Mysteries by Mark Dawidziak X
A Mystery of Mysteries by Mark Dawidziak
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2023, 288 pages

    Apr 9, 2024, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jacob Lenz-Avila
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Book Summary

A Mystery of Mysteries is a brilliant biography of Edgar Allan Poe that examines the renowned author's life through the prism of his mysterious death and its many possible causes.

It is a moment shrouded in horror and mystery. Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849, at just forty, in a painful, utterly bizarre manner that would not have been out of place in one of his own tales of terror. What was the cause of his untimely death, and what happened to him during the three missing days before he was found, delirious and "in great distress" on the streets of Baltimore, wearing ill-fitting clothes that were not his own?

Mystery and horror. Poe, who remains one of the most iconic of American writers, died under haunting circumstances that reflect the two literary genres he took to new heights. Over the years, there has been a staggering amount of speculation about the cause of death, from rabies and syphilis to suicide, alcoholism, and even murder. But many of these theories are formed on the basis of the caricature we have come to associate with Poe: the gloomy-eyed grandfather of Goth, hunched over a writing desk with a raven perched on one shoulder, drunkenly scribbling his chilling masterpieces. By debunking the myths of how he lived, we come closer to understanding the real Poe―and uncovering the truth behind his mysterious death, as a new theory emerges that could prove the cause of Poe's death was haunting him all his life.

In a compelling dual-timeline narrative alternating between Poe's increasingly desperate last months and his brief but impactful life, Mark Dawidziak sheds new light on the enigmatic master of macabre.

A Mystery of Mysteries

Having completed just forty years of what was without question a most stormy life, Edgar Allan Poe took leave of this realm early Sunday morning, October 7, 1849. Nobody knows precisely why. Indeed, like so many aspects of his life, his death has been the topic of endless debate, conjecture, speculation, guessing, and second-guessing. Nobody can tell you with anything resembling certainty why, while traveling from Richmond to New York, he ended up in Baltimore. Nobody can tell you what happened to him during the missing days between his last sighting in Richmond on the evening of September 26 and his reappearance outside an Election Day polling place in Baltimore on the damp, chilly afternoon of October 3. Nobody has ever solved the identity of the person, Reynolds, for whom Poe supposedly called out for hours before he died at the Washington University Hospital of Baltimore. Nobody has ever produced conclusive evidence, or so much as a first cousin to it...

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The concept of "known-unknowns" is thematic to this biography as well as to Poe's macabre works. As human beings, we are aware of our limits, know that we will eventually decline and die, but we don't know how it will go down, we might never. Though Dawidziak arranges Poe's life into a gripping story, he emphasizes objectivity and research. At the very beginning, he disabuses the reader of the notion that any serious biographer knows how Poe died with complete certainty. A supposed quest for his cause of death is valuable only insofar as it turns the reader's attention to the underappreciated "knowns" of his life, many of which inspire even more unanswerable questions...continued

Full Review Members Only (1090 words)

(Reviewed by Jacob Lenz-Avila).

Media Reviews

The Week, 8 must-read books in 2023
A Mystery of Mysteries will surely fascinate even the mildly-curious Edgar Allan Poe fan…a poignant analysis.

The Columbus Dispatch
Even those familiar with Poe's story will find plenty of surprises here, while those who know him only by reputation will get a better-rounded view of a man who was far more than an author of a few scary stories.

Booklist (starred review)
Dawidziak's thoroughly researched investigation meticulously explores the various theories surrounding Poe's death while vividly capturing the public's ongoing fascination with this quintessential tortured soul.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this intrigue-filled offering, Dawidziak, a former television and film critic, achieves the difficult feat of delivering a fresh biography of Edgar Allan Poe...[H]is sharp analysis of how Poe's macabre pieces came to overshadow the rest of his work will give readers a fuller understanding of Poe's varied artistry and character. This has revelations to spare.

Kirkus Reviews
[A] colorful portrait...A brisk, satisfying biography of a literary icon who still fascinates.

Author Blurb Daniel Stashower, Edgar Award-winning author of The Hour of Peril and The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder
Mark Dawidziak plumbs the mysteries of Poe's life and career with extraordinary skill and knowledge. Much like Montresor leading Fortunato through the winding catacombs, he leaves the reader surprised and thoroughly ensnared.

Author Blurb J.W. Ocker, Edgar Award-winning author of Poe-Land
A poignant and realistic picture of Poe through the fascinating black prism of his mysterious death.

Author Blurb Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Flags of Our Fathers and Mark Twain: A Life
Edgar Allan Poe has brooded over the world's comprehension as the dark prince of horror tales: a hollow-eyed specter surrounded by candle-tossed shadows, a raven on his writing table, an empty cognac glass at his elbow. In this revelatory biography, Mark Dawidziak honors the Gothic nature of Poe's work, yet sweeps open the curtains to throw full light upon this masterful poet and shaper of American literature.

Reader Reviews

James mordan

I love the title of the book
This is one of the best book have ever read. I love this book so much

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Beyond the Book

Edgar Allan Poe and Gothic Fiction in 19th Century Philadelphia

Photograph of Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, showing statue of a raven with shadow cast against brick wall By 1838, Edgar Allan Poe had earned a reputation as a sharp literary critic and skillful editor while based in Richmond, Virginia. To make the most of his talents, he had to move to a bigger and better arena. Boston was the center of book publishing, and New York led the nation in daily journalism and newspapers. But the magazine trade and American Gothic fiction, Poe's niches, flourished in Philadelphia, which was at that time, in the words of The Library Company of Philadelphia, "perhaps the most enlightened, genteel, urbane, and humane of American cities." In Mark Dawidziak's Poe biography A Mystery of Mysteries, scholar Edward G. Pettit of Philadelphia's Rosenbach Museum notes, "During the first half of the nineteenth century, more ...

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