Passing Strange by Martha A. Sandweiss
A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

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Synopsis

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The secret double life of the man who mapped the American West, and the woman he loved

Clarence King was a late nineteenth-century celebrity, a brilliant scientist and explorer once described by Secretary of State John Hay as "the best and brightest of his generation." But King hid a secret from his Gilded Age cohorts and prominent family in Newport: for thirteen years he lived a double life-the first as the prominent white geologist and writer Clarence King, and a second as the black Pullman porter and steelworker named James Todd. The fair, blue-eyed son of a wealthy China trader passed across the color line, revealing his secret to his black common-law wife, Ada Copeland, only on his deathbed. In Passing Strange, noted historian Martha A. Sandweiss tells the dramatic, distinctively American tale of a family built along the fault lines of celebrity, class, and race- a story that spans the long century from Civil War to civil rights.
 

About Martha A. Sandweiss

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Martha A. Sandweiss is professor of history and American studies at Amherst College.
 
Published January 24, 2009 by Penguin Books. 403 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Passing Strange

Kirkus Reviews

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He decided to present himself to her as a Pullman porter named James Todd, an invented identity that “hinged not just on one lie but a cluster of related, duplicitous assertions.” As Sandweiss notes in this sturdy work, which blends elements of social and intellectual history with biography, thou...

Dec 01 2008 | Read Full Review of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age...

The New York Times

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The true story of Clarence King, a 19th-century scientist from the highest reaches of New England society, who lived a second life passing as a black man, married to a black woman.

Feb 04 2009 | Read Full Review of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age...

The New York Times

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She lived to 103 — one of the few former slaves alive at the time of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — and during the legal battle for her husband’s estate she was, curiously enough, represented by an eminent black lawyer who had once passed as white.

Mar 05 2009 | Read Full Review of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age...

The New York Times

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How Clarence King, a 19th-century white geologist and explorer, passed for 13 years as James Todd, a black Pullman porter.

Mar 08 2009 | Read Full Review of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age...

Tampa Bay Times

Hay, who in his youth was Lincoln's secretary and who in the fullness of his years was McKinley's secretary of state, thought King the best man of his time and was puzzled by the fact that King's talents did not make him rich.

Apr 11 2009 | Read Full Review of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age...

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