on the screen

On the Screen

View All



View All


Helping those in need

Visit Site

MP3 Audio Sample

goodreads logo

Short Synopsis
Noted historian Martha A. Sandweiss tells the uniquely American story of Clarence King, a man who hid from his Gilded Age cohorts and prominent family the fact that he lived a double life—as the celebrated white explorer, geologist, and writer King and as a black Pullman porter and steelworker named James Todd.

Full Synopsis
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, revealing his secret to his black common-law wife, Ada King, only 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 "Todd's" 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.

"Ms. Sandweiss offers a fine, mesmerizing account." ---The New York Times

"Lorna Raver reads with enthusiasm and a deliberate delivery.... A feel-good story well presented." ---AudioFile

"Immensely fascinating." ---The Washington Post

"Fascinating" ---Chicago Sun-Times

"Audie Award nominee 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

"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

"A delicious brew of public accomplishment and domestic intrigue." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"A masterful work of scholarship, and a deeply moving human story well told." ---Neil Henry, author of Pearl's Secret

"An intriguing look at long-held secrets." ---Kirkus
Publishers Weekly Review

Chicago Tribune Favorite Nonfiction of 2009

New York Times' Janet Maslin's Top 10 Book

National Book Critics Circle Finalist

Passing Strange

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

Author Martha A. Sandweiss

Narrated by Lorna Raver

Publication date Mar 10, 2009

Running time 15 hrs

Available Formats

Let us know!