The first major biography of Poe since Kenneth Silverman’s Edgar A Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance was published thirty years ago, The Reason for the Darkness of the Night provides a necessary alternative to Silverman’s emphasis on childhood trauma, romantic entanglement and beautiful dead women who won’t stay dead. It has arrived soon after Scott Peeples’s The Man of the Crowd: Edgar Allan Poe and the City, an engaging but more slender study of Poe as an urban writer – focusing on Boston, Richmond, London, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, the cities where he lived – that came out last autumn. In contrast to these works, John Tresch offers a thorough, beautifully developed, long-overdue exploration of Poe’s lifelong affinity for science and its pervasive influence on his art.
If you aren’t a scientist, or if you are among the many Poe fans who have avoided reading Eureka, his brilliant but uneven book-length prose poem about the nature of the universe, don’t worry. Tresch is a splendid storyteller. He begins by describing Poe’s efforts to attract a