Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living by Paul Collins

Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called LivingEdgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living by Paul Collins

5 Stars

Looming large in the popular imagination as a serious poet and lively drunk who died in penury, Edgar Allan Poe was also the most celebrated and notorious writer of his day. He died broke and alone at the age of forty, but not before he had written some of the greatest works in the English language, from the chilling “The Tell-Tale Heart” to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”—the first modern detective story—to the iconic poem “The Raven.”

Poe’s life was one of unremitting hardship. His father abandoned the family, and his mother died when he was three. Poe was thrown out of West Point, and married his beloved thirteen-year-old cousin, who died of tuberculosis at twenty-four. He was so poor that he burned furniture to stay warm. He was a scourge to other poets, but more so to himself.

In the hands of Paul Collins, one of our liveliest historians, this mysteriously conflicted figure emerges as a genius both driven and undone by his artistic ambitions. Collins illuminates Poe’s huge successes and greatest flop (a 143-page prose poem titled Eureka), and even tracks down what may be Poe’s first published fiction, long hidden under an enigmatic byline. Clear-eyed and sympathetic, Edgar Allan Poe is a spellbinding story about the man once hailed as “the Shakespeare of America.”

 

My review:

 

As with other historical authors of note, there have been so many different biographies and books written about the life and times of Edgar Allan Poe. Yet, as I am a curious sort, I tend to read every one that I can get my hands on. Previously to this one, I found myself quite disappointed with the vast majority of them. Most of the time this was for two main reasons, which I shall note later in this review. This book delighted and surprised me.

This author took a different approach. Rather than treating this man as though he were a villain or a hero, he instead took a much appreciated far more neutral approach. In this particular book, Paul Collins did not treat Poe as if he were some rare anomaly, but rather discussed the hardships and high points of Poe’s life. I think this is the first work of non-fiction about Poe’ life that I actually felt like he was being portrayed as human in. No parlour tricks, no illusions that he was something dark and macabre to be feared. Just a man on a streak of bad luck and bad decisions.

I was impressed by the author’s meticulous research and that he seemed to hit most of the valid and important parts of Poe’s personal life and career from the beginning. Unlike many other biographies on the man, this book did not centrally focus on the publication of the Raven, nor the drinking habit which the author later became synonymous with. His actions are debated somewhat here and there, but are not put under a 21st century microscope of morality. I like it when the author can allow a story (especially in non-fiction) to tell itself with little interference in the way of the author’s personal interjections.

This is not a long book, but has more than just the simple, basic Poe info in it. If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe or just curious about a man who led an intriguing life of poverty and moderate success, then this would be a good book for you to choose.

Recommended.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson

Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America’s first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.

Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla’s private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an “idealist” inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion.

This major biography sheds new light on Tesla’s visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.–Description from Goodreads

Hardcover, 520 pages
Expected publication: May 26th 2013
by Princeton University Press (first published May 7th 2013)
ISBN
0691057761 (ISBN13: 9780691057767)
original title
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age
You can find this book HERE
My Opinion:
Many self-described “Tesla Biographers” have taken a shot at writing a book that would be considered comprehensive and worthy of filling in the gaps of this infamous man’s life, but none have done so as well as W. Bernard Carlson.

If you are expecting a light, fluff-filled read about this important inventor, please look elsewhere. This book is intelligent, articulate and technical. If your desire is to make sense of the how and why Tesla ended up where he did by the end of his life, this book will not only elaborate on common knowledge of the subject, but will open your eyes to the unfortunate truth of this genius and his fall from grace, society and his descent into poverty.

What I found fascinating about this book, was that rather than giving in to the previous biographer’s desire to make Tesla look like a superhuman celebrity with an external muse that produced his creativity, this book shows the rise to fame through his eyes. His inventions are detailed and his numerous ideas and contributions to science and the field of electrical engineering is presented brilliantly. Rather than going from chapter to chapter saying “and then he did this and then he did that” this work has a very natural progression. Frequently using Tesla’s own words to describe his creative process, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age gives a much more in depth view of his life.

I had always thought of Tesla as having been someone who looked within himself to answer the great questions of life, and this book seems to agree with that notion. As someone who is also rather introspective, I appreciated the idea that Tesla turned to his own mind for answers and created his own circumstances for his early success.

If you are the type of history buff that will get lost in an old black and white photo for minutes at a time, marveling at how things have changed, this author has you covered. There are plenty of photos and diagrams in this book of Tesla, his inventions and his previous places of employment. I was intensely drawn to the photo of Edison’s Machine Works and the photo of the inside of the machine shop at Wardenclyffe.

Rather than viewing Nikola Tesla in a celebratory way, this book takes a neutral and impartial stand of the inventor, neither praising nor degrading him for his work nor his decisions. The author has researched and presented material that tells the story of a man from humble beginnings who did many great things, and made some choices that were most regrettable in terms of his own preservation.

After reading this, my opinion is pretty simple. I believe Tesla would be proud of this biography. Perhaps just as proud of this as he would be of the unit of measurement named after him.

While Tesla may not be the household name that Edison has turned out to be, for any serious scholar of the age of invention, he will always be an important contributor to many things that we take for granted as every day convenience today.

I feel this is an important book and one that should be shared with the younger generation. Teachers, parents and anyone who is interested in the history of invention and pioneers of their time would benefit from this book. I thank the author for the hard work and dedication they have shown in writing this.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher.