The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science by John Tresch
One of my favorite things about mid-19th/early 20th century fiction is the inclusion, even in works of “literary” fiction, of lots of science. Or rather, natural philosophy, as it was referred to during the period. Poe was no exception, but I hadn’t considered just how science-leaning much of his personal philosophy was. I’d read Peter Ackroyd’s Poe: A Life Cut Short back in 2019 when I was reading through my “unabridged” Poe collection, but Ackroyd’s book is a very basic telling of Poe’s life. The Reason for the Darkness is a biography specifically looking at Poe’s education (at UVA and West Point in mathematics and engineering) and other connections to the burgeoning science community in the United States.
Throughout his writing Poe was striving to find the system behind what makes a good and affecting piece of poetry or fiction. This wasn’t any different to him than trying to discern a system of the universe—which he had his own thoughts on. My “unabridged” collection doesn’t include Poe’s version of a grand unified theory: “Eureka” which is subtitled “An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe.” In the way of an imaginative 19th-century man-of-science, some of Poe’s ideas in “Eureka” seem to foretell later theories in astrophysics and quantum physics. “Eureka” was presented and published the year before his death, to generally unfavorable reviews from both the literary and scientific communities. Poe seemed to consider it his master work, though perhaps he always considered his last work his master work.
All in all, I really enjoyed The Reason for the Darkness of the Night, bot as a Poe biography and as a history of science in the United States.
#Trekathon kicks off today! I’m starting out with Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum (Translators and Editors). This will fulfill my “a book either set somewhere you’ve never been” prompt and beam up Scotty. Still reading a chapter-a-day of Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert and Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury.