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Download Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception across the Color Line Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception across the Color Line, by Martha A. Sandweiss Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (428 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Martha A. Sandweiss Narrator: Lorna Raver Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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 was named by John Hay “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—as the celebrated white explorer, geologist, and writer Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steelworker named James Todd. The fair, blue-eyed son of a wealthy China trader passed across the color line, only revealing his secret to his black common-law wife, Ada King, on his deathbed.

Martha A. Sandweiss, a noted historian of the American West, is the first writer to uncover the life that King tried so hard to conceal from the public eye. She reveals the complexity of a man who, while publicly espousing a personal dream of a uniquely American “race,” an amalgam of white and black, hid his love for his wife and their five biracial children. Passing Strange tells the dramatic tale of a family built along the fault lines of celebrity, class, and race—from the “Todds’” wedding in 1888 to the 1964 death of Ada, one of the last surviving Americans born into slavery, and finally to the legacy inherited by Clarence King’s granddaughter, who married a white man and adopted a white child in order to spare her family the legacies of racism.

A remarkable feat of research and reporting spanning the Civil War to the civil rights era, Passing Strange tells a uniquely American story of self-invention, love, deception, and race.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “An astounding true story…Sandweiss offers a fine, mesmerizing account of how one extremely secretive man, ‘acting from a complicated mix of loyalty and self-interest, reckless desire and social conservatism,’ could encapsulate his country’s shifting ideas about race in the course of one family’s anything but black-and-white history.”

    New York Times

  • “There was another side to King that neither the public nor his glittering friends knew, a side that Martha A. Sandweiss explores with great sensitivity, insight, and painstaking research in Passing Strange…[an] immensely fascinating work.”

    Washington Post

  • “Fascinating.”

    Chicago Sun-Times

  • “[Sandweiss] tells [Clarence King’s story] with a scholar’s rigor and a storyteller’s verve…A sophisticated work of scholarship.”

    Columbia Journalism Review

  • “Sandweiss serves a delicious brew of public accomplishment and domestic intrigue in this dual biography of the geologist-explorer Clarence King (1842–1901) and Ada Copeland (c. 1861–1964), a ‘black, working-class woman’ who was ‘born a slave.’”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “One of the best-known men of his time crosses the racial divide—in reverse…An intriguing look at long-held secrets, Jim Crow, bad faith—and also, as Sandweiss observes, ‘love and longing that transcends the historical bounds of time and place.’”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Lorna Raver does a credible job with this story, giving a solid but unobtrusive performance well suited to the subject matter.”

    Library Journal (audio review)

  • “Lorna Raver reads with enthusiasm and a deliberate delivery. There isn’t much opportunity for characterizations as Ada and Clarence/James don’t speak, but Raver makes sure you don’t miss a word of this well-researched story…A feel-good story well presented.”


  • "Passing Strange combines remarkable detective work, riveting storytelling, and the enduring question of race to fashion a most unusual but very American family saga.”

    David W. Blight, author of A Slave No More

  • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
  • A New York Times Top 10 Book
  • A 2009 Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book for Favorite Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Brian | 2/15/2014

    " An interesting story, perhaps a little thin on information to fill a volume of this size so the author "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Janie | 1/28/2014

    " This book is awesome. I hardly put it down when I had time to read. I was so intrigued with Mr. King and his choice to live such a double life. It is a must read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Kandis | 1/18/2014

    " While I was very impressed by the sheer amount of information the author must have read through to uncover such an amazing story--sometimes I felt I was drowning in details... Such a compelling true story--I loved the secret glimpse I had into the personal and political climate of a very important time in our nation's history... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Nicole Marble | 12/27/2013

    " A remarkable story of a remarkable man and his highly unusual life. And a book in need of serious editing - half the length would have made a prize winning book. As it is, the book still tells of unique lives. "

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About the Author

Martha A. Sandweiss is professor of history at Princeton University. She began her career as a museum curator and taught for twenty years at Amherst College. She is the author of numerous works of western American history and the history of photography, including Print the Legend: Photography and the American West, winner of the Organization of American Historians’ Ray Allen Billington Award, and Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace. She is also co-editor of the Oxford History of the American West.