January 29, 2008  

AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College’s Frost Library will host a book launch of Professor of American Studies and History Marni Sandweiss’ new book, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line ($27.95, The Penguin Press, 2009), in the periodicals area on the main floor of the building at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5. The gathering—which is free and open to the public—will feature a reading by Sandweiss of her compelling new book, as well as light refreshments.

Passing Strange tells the extraordinary story of Clarence King, a 19th -century white explorer, geologist and writer who, for 13 years, lived a double life as a black Pullman porter and steel worker named James Todd. As Sandweiss details in the book, King, the fair, blue-eyed son of a wealthy China trader, kept the fact that he was white from his beloved African-American wife, Ada, throughout their relationship and revealed his secret to her only on his deathbed.

“Sandweiss serves a delicious brew of public accomplishment and domestic intrigue in [the book],” reads a starred Publishers Weekly review of Passing Strange. “A remarkable feat of research and reporting that covers the long century from Civil War to Civil Rights, [the book] tells a uniquely American story of self-invention, love, deception and race.” In addition to Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and BookPage magazines have also featured Passing Strange, and Reader’s Digest dubbed it a “great new book” in its February 2009 issue.

Sandweiss has taught at Amherst for 20 years. She began her career as a museum curator and has since authored numerous works on 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 the co-editor of the Oxford History of the American West.