Fast upon the heels of Kenneth Silverman and his splendid Edgar A. Poe (1991), Meyers (Joseph Conrad, 1991, etc.) fashions an even greater success with the same material. The strength of Meyers's approach is that it focuses on Poe's life and character, and examines his writings in historical, rather than literary, terms. This isn't a book of criticism, or even a critical biography--and, as such, it's free of the theoretical constructions so often imposed by academics upon their subjects. Poe, Meyers emphasizes, was a mess of complications and perversity- -a brilliant crank, a genteel necrophile, a plagiarist and hack who stole from his inferiors and starved while his editors grew fat-- and Meyers is able to show the depth of his insanity and genius by means of a clear and straightforward narrative of events and personalities too poignant to support much interpretation. Poe's own correspondence is drawn on to supply a vivid portrait of his brutal domestic life--the constant uprootings, the continual pleas for aid, the excruciation of his wife's slow death--and the endless (and frequently absurd) controversies that Poe carried on in print are excerpted at length. The testimonial accounts of Poe given by many of his contemporaries are remarkable for their concurrences, and constitute some of the best material in this very rich work. The notes are extensive and helpful. Vivid and haunting: a great success.