Essential Books on Edgar Allan Poe
There are countless books on Edgar Allan Poe, and it comes with good reason, he was a writer, poet, editor, and literary critic best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and horror. Moreover, Poe is widely regarded as the central figure of Romanticism in the United States, and of American literature.
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s foremost writers to the heights of his craft, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Edgar Allan Poe.
Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy by Jeffrey Meyers
This biography of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), a giant of American literature who invented both the horror and detective genres, is a portrait of extremes: a disinherited heir, a brilliant but exploited author and editor, a man who veered radically from temperance to rampant debauchery, and an agnostic who sought a return to religion at the end of his life. Acclaimed biographer Jeffrey Meyers explores the writer’s turbulent life and career, including his marriage and multiple, simultaneous romances, his literary feuds, and his death at an early age under bizarre and troubling circumstances.
The Reason for the Darkness of the Night by John Tresch
In The Reason for the Darkness of the Night, John Tresch offers a bold new biography of a writer whose short, tortured life continues to fascinate. Shining a spotlight on an era when the lines separating entertainment, speculation, and scientific inquiry were blurred, Tresch reveals Poe’s obsession with science and lifelong ambition to advance and question human knowledge.
Even as he composed dazzling works of fiction, he remained an avid and often combative commentator on new discoveries, publishing and hustling in literary scenes that also hosted the era’s most prominent scientists, semi-scientists, and pseudo-intellectual rogues. As one newspaper put it, “Mr. Poe is not merely a man of science – not merely a poet – not merely a man of letters. He is all combined; and perhaps he is something more.”
Taking us through his early training in mathematics and engineering at West Point and the tumultuous years that followed, Tresch shows that Poe lived, thought, and suffered surrounded by science – and that many of his most renowned and imaginative works can best be understood in its company. He cast doubt on perceived certainties even as he hungered for knowledge, and at the end of his life delivered a mind-bending lecture on the origins of the universe that would win the admiration of twentieth-century physicists.
The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
Baltimore, 1849. The body of Edgar Allan Poe has been buried in an unmarked grave. The public, the press, and even Poe’s own family and friends accept the conclusion that Poe was a second-rate writer who met a disgraceful end as a drunkard. Everyone, in fact, seems to believe this except a young Baltimore lawyer named Quentin Clark, an ardent admirer who puts his own career and reputation at risk in a passionate crusade to salvage Poe’s.
As Quentin explores the puzzling circumstances of Poe’s demise, he discovers that the writer’s last days are riddled with unanswered questions the police are possibly willfully ignoring. Just when Poe’s death seems destined to remain a mystery, and forever sealing his ignominy, inspiration strikes Quentin – in the form of Poe’s own stories. The young attorney realizes that he must find the one person who can solve the strange case of Poe’s death: the real-life model for Poe’s brilliant fictional detective character, C. Auguste Dupin, the hero of ingenious tales of crime and detection.
In short order, Quentin finds himself enmeshed in sinister machinations involving political agents, a female assassin, the corrupt Baltimore slave trade, and the lost secrets of Poe’s final hours. With his own future hanging in the balance, Quentin Clark must turn master investigator himself to unchain his now imperiled fate from that of Poe’s. The author’s groundbreaking research – featuring documented material never published before – opens a new window into the truth behind Poe’s demise, literary history’s most persistent enigma.
Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn
Renowned as the creator of the detective story and a master of horror, the author of “The Red Mask of Death,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Murders of the Rue Morgue,” Edgar Allan Poe seems to have derived his success from suffering and to have suffered from his success. “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” have been read as signs of his personal obsessions, and “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Descent into the Maelstrom” as symptoms of his own mental collapse.
Biographers have seldom resisted the opportunities to confuse the pathologies in the stories with the events in Poe’s life. Against this tide of fancy, guesses, and amateur psychologizing, Arthur Hobson Quinn’s biography devotes itself meticulously to facts. Based on exhaustive research in the Poe family archive, Quinn extracts the life from the legend, and describes how they both were distorted by prior biographies.
Poe-Land by J. W. Ocker
Edgar Allan Poe was an oddity. His life was odd, his literature is odd, his legacy is odd. Actually, his legacy is the oddest part about him. In Poe-Land, J. W. Ocker explores Poe’s strange physical legacy along the East Coast and across the ocean by touring Poe’s homes, examining artifacts from his life – locks of his hair, pieces of his coffin, original manuscripts, the bed where his wife died – and traveling to the many memorials dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe.
Along the way, Ocker meets Poe fans from a range of backgrounds and professions – actors, museum managers, collectors, writers, professors, businessmen, sculptors, historians – who have dedicated some part of their lives to Poe and his legacy. A unique travel diary, this gem among books on Edgar Allan Poe follows the afterlife of the poet, author, and critic who invented detective fiction, advanced the emerging genre of science fiction, and elevated the horror genre.
Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Edgar Allan Poe. Even so, no one is really sure who Poe was. Many people say that he was as crazy as the characters he wrote about. Others say that Poe was a driven man with a simple wish. He wanted to write and to make a living by his writing. Even though Poe lived a miserable life, he wrote some of the most interesting and original literature ever created.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in January of 1809, the son of Boston actors. He was orphaned before he was 3 and was taken in by his godfather, John Allan, a merchant of Richmond, Virginia. After incurring gambling debts at the University of Virginia, he joined the army where, at 18, he published his first poems. He was dismissed from West Point, and then worked for various literary magazines. In 1836, while living in Baltimore, he married his 14-year-old cousin. He achieved acclaim for “The Raven” in 1845; two years later his wife died. In October of 1849, shortly after his engagement to a love of his youth, Poe was found semiconscious in the streets of Baltimore. He died days later. This book is a wide-ranging collection of his stories and poems.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Edgar Allan Poe, check out our list of The 10 Best Books on Ralph Waldo Emerson!