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The Species Seekers Quiz: Edgar Allan Poe’s Only Bestseller?

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 18, 2011

What was Edgar Allan Poe’s only bestseller during his lifetime?

Authors can look gloomy when books don't sell.

1.  The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a sea adventure and his only novel.

2.  The Conchologist’s First Book, a textbook.

3.  The Balloon Hoax, an account of an astounding trans-Atlantic balloon trip.

4.  Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a collection of his stories, in which “terror has been the thesis.”

And the answer is

The Conchologist’s First Book: Or a System of Testaceous Malacology was an illustrated school text published in 1839, 1840, and 1849.  It was an adaptation of The Manual of Conchology written by English author and lecturer Thomas Wyatt.

For a fee of $50, Poe wrote the preface, translated some French text by naturalist Georges Cuvier, and edited and reorganized the book’s accounts of animals and its taxonomy scheme.  The Conchologist’s First Book sold out within the first two months of publication, and was Poe’s only work to go into a second edition in his lifetime.

He received no royalties.

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