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Passing Strange

A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

Sandweiss, Martha A.

(Book - 2009)
Average Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.
Passing Strange
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Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth-century western history. Brilliant scientist and witty conversationalist, bestselling author and architect of the great surveys that mapped the West after the Civil War, King hid a secret from his Gilded Age cohorts and prominent Newport family: for thirteen years he lived a double life--as the celebrated white Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steelworker. Unable to marry the black woman he loved, the fair-haired, blue-eyed King passed as a Negro, revealing his secret to his wife Ada only on his deathbed. Historian Martha Sandweiss is the first writer to uncover the life that King tried so hard to conceal. She reveals the complexity of a man who, while publicly espousing a personal dream of a uniquely American amalgam of white and black, hid his love for his wife and their five biracial children.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2009
ISBN: 9781594202001
1594202001
Branch Call Number: 305.896073 S221p 2009
Characteristics: 370 p., [8] p. of plates :,ill. ;,24 cm

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Dec 04, 2012
  • hmcgivney rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Interesting and troubling story. It's really hard to know what in the heck was really going on, and the fact that the author speculates so much (because of lack of documentation) is less than ideal. The person with the most documentation is Clarence King, and I can't quite decide if he's a sociopath, or just a guy who was so scared to give up the privileges of his upper-class existence that he created an elaborate double life. It's also hard to reconcile the witty, loving, scientific genius that his friends describe with a man who would deceive the person he professes to love, live so far beyond his means that he borrowed the modern equivalent of millions of dollars from a friend, and who held such snobbish and patronizing ideas about those less fortunate than himself (his fascination with "slumming" is particularly vexing).

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