Tresch packs quite a lot into his book—there’s even an ingenious deconstruction of the title page of Poe’s nautical novel, the macabre and tantalizingly enigmatic 'Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.' Still, prospective readers of The Reason for the Darkness of the Night should be aware that it isn’t a sustained, detailed exposition of Poe’s life so much as a rich assemblage of biographical vignettes, brief story analyses and mini-essays on the era’s scientific beliefs. In general, Tresch’s overall thesis—that Poe’s 'deep familiarity with science was the fulcrum on which his thought balanced'—seems unarguable, given the presence of the 'ratiocinative' in so much of what he wrote. Yet, ultimately, it is Poe’s other aspect, his ability to convey monomaniacal intensity, verging on hysteria, that we are drawn to, his gift for expressing what D.H. Lawrence floridly called 'the prismatic ecstasy of heightened consciousness.'
Rather than feeling like a dive into minutiae or a specialist’s niche, Tresch’s approach manages to open up the world of Poe’s writing in an unexpectedly fascinating way. What emerges is how Poe’s interest in—and sometimes misunderstanding of—science drove some of his greatest works of horror. Anyone already familiar with Poe’s life will see all the same beats hit here ... Unlike earlier accounts, though, The Reason for the Darkness of the Night highlights several underexamined episodes in Poe’s life, including his years in the Army and at West Point ... Tresch shows in Poe an almost methodical program to take scientific and psychological advances, and wring horror from them by pushing them to their limits.
Tresch’s luminous study situates Poe’s life and work in the context of the mid-nineteenth-century scientific revolution ... Tresch brilliantly illuminates the process by which Poe synthesized his scientific knowledge in his works of the imagination ... As Tresch so trenchantly establishes, Poe was a towering genius who somehow dwelled in the shadows of his own creations.
Mr. Tresch keeps to a steady course. He approaches Poe’s uncanny lecture—and its published version, the prose poem 'Eureka'—not as a crazy fever dream, but as an inspired series of leaps from a firm grounding in fact ... He makes his case by telling Poe’s entire life story, endeavoring to show that 'Eureka' was the culmination of decades spent engaging with the leading scientific thought of the time. It’s like watching Doug Forcett pore over Kierkegaard between bong hits ... Mr. Tresch’s attempt to reach beyond biography and enfold the complexity of an era is ambitious, sometimes overly so. The narrative tends to lose its way during side trips to describe Poe’s contemporaries; at times, it seems a reach to interpret Poe’s fiction in light of his interest in science ... So it’s surprising to close this book and still feel saddened by the story it tells, about the recurring sorrows of Poe’s often nightmarish existence.
... splendid ... Weaving private letters and published works into a broader history, Tresch uses Poe as a drunken Virgil, through whose hazy eyes we catch glimpses of abolitionism and the Mexican-American War, new technologies and the Second Great Awakening. The effect is dizzying — and part of the point. Presidential elections are on par with editorial spats, hoaxes sit side by side with discoveries. In Poe’s mind (if not Tresch’s), boundaries — between self and other, science and society, poetry and politics — tend to shimmer, even dissipate. It’s not just that Poe was an outsider (though he was); even the insiders experienced the Jacksonian period as one of dissolution. But Poe seems to have felt the era’s ups and downs more acutely than almost anyone ... taking biography as a starting point rather than an end in itself, we find a lesson we share with Poe: that the only thing scarier than a sense of our limits is the fiction that we can somehow transcend them.
Poe has been painted as an extraordinarily prescient man who foresaw much of quantum theory and cosmogony, but Tresch makes the more modest claim that Poe posited a unification of humankind, imagination, and the physical universe ... Fans of the literary Poe will be intrigued by this lesser-known side of the author, and scientists will appreciate an accessible biography.
Historian Tresch...sheds light on Edgar Allan Poe’s engagement with science in this intriguing biography ... Tresch carefully reads Poe’s poems, stories, and essays, illustrating the ways that Poe balanced the literary with the scientific ... While Tresch addresses the common impression of Poe as a 'morbid dreamer' and a penniless writer, he takes things further by offering a nimble account of the emerging science of Poe’s day. Fans of Poe’s work—and science enthusiasts—will appreciate Tresch’s fresh angle.