Once you recommend one book in the Who Was series (Who Was, Who Is, even What Is) you have pretty much said everything you need about them. They are fun, simple, and while might not get “down and dirty” you do find a little dust here and there. I tend to like the books about people over the “things” or events (though the Ice Age was interesting as it showed that we are still learning about it, even though it seems like something that is pretty cut and dried. Been there, done that. But it wasn’t!)
This time I picked up Who Was Edgar Allan Poe? (Which trust me is a lot easier to pick up then the man himself would be). Jim Gigliotti has written a good introduction to the life of E. A. Poe. It also talks about this work, the success, his struggles, the poverty, the tragedy (if you want to realize how bad tuberculosis was, all you need to do is look at the Poe/Allan families), and finally, his death. This has been updated to include the facts that would come out years after his death. There is a mystery in the life and death of the man who was one of the first modern mystery writers.
I will focus on the fact that I found interesting. The first was how much he influenced modern literature. He is considered one of the first science fiction writers and would influence Jules Verne. He is credited for inspiring Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. His Gothic tales have chilled and thrilled for over a hundred years after his death. Who has not had to read The Raven at least once? His life was not all roses (the death of beloved women, his brother, issues with being published, the lack of a steady paycheck, lost loves, the today’s most likely not popular opinion of his marriage) this is who the man was and what his legacy has become.
The book is also illustrated by Tim Foley. These black and white sketches highlight the thoughts, feelings, and tone of things. Included are “side boxes/side bars” to the main subject to fill in information not necessarily directly related to the text.