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Poe: A Life Cut Short (Ackroyd's Brief Lives) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 20, 2009

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Poe: A Life Cut Short (Ackroyd's Brief Lives) + Poe: Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays (Library of America)
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Series: Ackroyd's Brief Lives
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (January 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038550800X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385508001
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Noted author Ackroyd (The Thames) adds to his one-man Brief Lives series this exploration of the short—and predominantly miserable—life of Edgar Allan Poe. Bringing his novelist's skills to bear, Ackroyd opens with Poe's mysterious death in 1849: Like his narratives and his fables, Poe's own story ends abruptly and inconclusively.... Born in Boston in 1809 to traveling actors and orphaned in 1811, Poe was adopted by Richmond, Va., merchant John Allan. Their relationship soured, and Poe left for a rocky academic career at the University of Virginia and a stint at West Point, and in 1836 he married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia. Despite critical acclaim for his work—from 1839's The Fall of the House of Usher to his famous 1845 poem, The Raven—Poe constantly struggled with alcoholism and poverty, alienating almost everyone he met. At age 40, Poe was discovered dying in a Baltimore tavern; his whereabouts for the previous week remain unknown. But Ackroyd never demonizes the melancholic man who influenced writers as diverse as Jules Verne and James Joyce, and his readable account should appeal to Poe devotees and newcomers alike. Illus. (Jan. 20)
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From Booklist

The fourth Brief Lives volume written by Ackroyd focuses on a man as famous for his personality as his works. As Ackroyd immediately remarks, Poe is the quintessential poete maudit, or accursed artist, greatly talented but thwarted by circumstances at every turn. Portraying Poe as permanently affected by his mother’s ignominious, youthful death, Ackroyd projects from Poe’s mother fixation his affectional preferences for ill young women such as his wife (and cousin) Virginia Clemm or, when such were unavailable, motherly (but not matronly) aesthetes; meanwhile, dying and dead young beauties haunt his stories and poems. Raised in England and Virginia as something of a charity case, Poe was acutely aware of his gifts, which included unforgettable looks, and, morbidly defensive of them, made for an erratic character, alternately efficient and perspicacious, charming and brilliant in conversation, and vindictive and bizarre in behavior—the last especially when he was drunk, as he lamentably often was; in short, definitely attractive-repulsive and ingratiating-infuriating. Though a bit breezy, this is a fine place to begin celebrating the 2009 Poe bicentennial. --Ray Olson

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Customer Reviews

Edgar Allan poe is one of the greatest poets and short story writers in American history.
Bobbie Joe
There are some parts of the book that seem to drag, and if you are looking for exhaustive background on where Poe got the ideas for his stories you won't find it here.
Brian Reaves
He will quote in detail a first hand account given of Poe's actions and then show why such an account is highly unlikely.
David G. Stahl

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Richard Masloski on April 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love Poe. I love reading his writings and reading writings about him. Mr. Ackroyd's take on the Divine Edgar seems to have been written whilst on the run. (Or more likely to jump-the-gun and take some advantage of the fact that 2009 marks the 200th year of Poe's birth.) Anyway: this is NOT a book, it is an extended essay. It covers no new ground, offers no insight of any deep note into Poe's writings and even manages to get the color of Catterina (Poe's cat) wrong in the space of twenty pages. The book itself is only 160 pages long. Everything in this "book" can be found by browsing some of the better Poe websites out there in cyberspace. Instead of a thoughtful, leisured stroll-on-foot through the weird and haunting landscape of Poe's life, Ackroyd packs his readers in a speedster and puts his foot to the pedal and races us through it all as if he had a train to catch...or perhaps a paycheck to cash. Either way, Poe deserves much better and, hopefully, someone somewhere will offer us a rich and rewarding take on Poe as his birthday draws near.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) pondered much as he lived out his short dark and dreary life. Poe first saw light in Boston the son of an impecunious actor father and actress mother. His father disappeared; the mother died while Poe was young. He was adopted by John and Fanny Allan from Richmond, Va. who raised the lad. Poe spent some years in England being given an excellent education for his time and place.
Poe had a disastrous relationship with his father; was expelled from West Point and starved in such cities as Boston, Richmond, Philadelphia and Baltimore. He eked out a living selling short story classics such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (the first detective story of note);
"William Wilson": "The Imp in the Bottle"; "The Fall of the House of Usher"; "The Tell-Tale Heart" and other masterpieces of the genre. He also wrote classic poems as "The Bells"; "The Raven" and "Ligea".
Poe married Virginia Clemm his 13 year old cousin who died in his arms. He had affairs with many women who were ill and frail. He often courted rich and married women. Poe was a nonbeliever in God; was a drunkard and never held a steady job for very long. He did edit several literary magazines and newspapers. Some people got along with him while several of his associates found him weird, melancholic and morose. He died in Baltimore in 1849 under mysterious circumstances.
Peter Ackroyd, the prolific London biographer, of such figures as Charles Dickens, William Shakeseare and others has done a superficial job in delineating the main events in Poe's life. The book can be read in a few hours containing the barebones account of the tragic poet's lugubriously unhappy life. There is little literary analysis of Poe's books. The work does contain fine photos of Poe and his circle.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jym Cherry on February 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Like Poe himself, Peter Ackroyd's Poe is of a different time. I remember when I was a kid, my grandmother had a library that she had amassed during her life. Leather bound first editions of some amazing authors, and included in that collection were slim volumes that were biographies of writers. Ackroyd's Brief Lives series, of which Poe is one, harkens back to this tradition, in Poe's case, remarkably well.

Poe is a short book, it does cover the major events of his life in some detail, but not in great depth but I don't think that is its goal. It also doesn't delve deeply into Poe's work and only touches lightly on Poe's major works such as the Raven and The Fall of the House of Usher, but it doesn't have the space to get into the experiences in Poe's life that created these stories or the circumstances that may have influenced their creation. Indeed, there are other biographies that dig into those territories. This Poe is for someone just discovering Poe and wants some basic information on his life, or for someone who wants to be conversant in Poe, or someone who wants a quick refresher course on Poe. For those people this nice little volume is the one to have.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. Berner VINE VOICE on February 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A previous reviewer complains that this "is not a book, but an essay." First: there is nothing that prevents a "book" from also being an "essay". Second: What did he expect from an entry in a series called "Ackroyd's Brief Lives", EXCEPT a BRIEF life?
Of course the book is not as detailed as some 4-5-600 page doorstop might be; And there are those who might well wish to read such. But for those of us who just want a brilliantly written, stunning, moving, and deeply insightful overview of a tragic man's life, I suppose this will just have to do.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Hunter on September 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Dianne Hunter's Review
Poe lived his short, unhappy life in financial poverty while desperately trying to be recognized as a superior person and literary artist. His attempts to secure financial support and maternal love failed as Poe did himself in with arrogance, restlessness, and alcohol. This brief biography fills out Poe's chronology with quotations from letters written by Poe's 19th-century associates. Ackroyd concludes that Poe was like a cuttlefish drowned in its own ink, that he posed as Byron, and that Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarme, Baudelaire, Tennyson, Dostoevksy, and Conrad are the true family of the otherwise orphaned Poe.
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