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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo | [Tom Reiss]

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

Father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas, Alex Dumas has become, through his son's books, the model for a captivating modern protagonist: The wronged man in search of justice. Born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but then made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. He was only 32 when he was given command of 53,000 men, the reward for series of triumphs that many regarded as impossible, and then topped his previous feats by leading a raid up a frozen cliff face....
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2013

By the author of the internationally best-selling biography The Orientalist, The Black Count brings to life one of history’s great forgotten heroes: a man almost unknown today yet with a personal story that is strikingly familiar. His swashbuckling exploits appear in The Three Musketeers, and his triumphs and ultimate tragic fate inspired The Count of Monte Cristo. His name is Alex Dumas. Father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas, Alex has become, through his son's books, the model for a captivating modern protagonist: The wronged man in search of justice.

Born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but then made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.

He was only 32 when he was given command of 53,000 men, the reward for series of triumphs that many regarded as impossible, and then topped his previous feats by leading a raid up a frozen cliff face that secured the Alps for France. It was after his subsequent heroic service as Napoleon’s cavalry commander that Dumas was captured and cast into a dungeon - and a harrowing ordeal commenced that inspired one of the world’s classic works of fiction.

The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son. Drawing on hitherto unknown documents, letters, battlefield reports and Dumas' handwritten prison diary, The Black Count is a groundbreaking masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.

©2012 Tom Reiss (P)2012 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"From pike-wielding mobs to prisoners locked in a fortress tower, The Black Count, a fascinating, detailed account of the life of Alexandre Dumas' father, is as action packed as The Count of Monte Cristo. Unlike Dumas' famous adventure novel, however, Reiss' incredible tale is true." (Candice Millard, New York Times best-selling author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic)

"The Black Count is a dazzling achievement, a feat of ingenious scholarly research that shows a novelist's flair both for sketching character and recreating the smells and tastes, and colors and textures, of 18th century slavery and colonialism in Haiti, and aristocratic life in the metropole back in Paris. It's also the fullest biographical study of the complexity and fluidity of race relations in the colonial period that I've ever read.... I learned something new virtually on every page.... No one who reads this magnificent biography will be able to read The Count of Monte Cristo or any history of slavery in the New World in the same way again." (Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the W. E .B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University)

"Tom Reiss's The Black Count is the riveting, beautifully written and well-researched story of the seemingly impossible: In 18th-century France, Alex Dumas, a man of color - the son of an enslaved woman and French nobleman - became one of his country's most celebrated generals and the father of a famed novelist who used his father's gallant and, ultimately, tragic life to create characters that are known the world over.... It could never have happened in the United States, and with great skill, Reiss shows how the moment that produced Alex Dumas was lost with the rise of 19th century racism." (Annette Gordon Reed, author of Andrew Johnson and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for The Hemingses of Monticello)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (338 )
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  •  
    Michael Athens, AL, USA 11-24-12
    Michael Athens, AL, USA 11-24-12 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "History Discovered"
    Any additional comments?

    Wow! This book opened insights I never had to the "3 Musketeer's" author and his father. I thought the book got off to a slow start, with the author spending a good deal of time as to his gathering of the information, but once it got into the story, it was fascinating.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A. Hardison Mesa, Arizona United States 10-29-12
    A. Hardison Mesa, Arizona United States 10-29-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Amazing account"
    Any additional comments?

    This is a riveting account of Alexander Dumas' father. If you loved The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers or any of Dumas' other works, it is especially interesting to discover the real life people and events that shaped the characters and events in Dumas' novels. Even if you have not read Dumas' works, this book is an fascinating look into France from the mid 1700s through Napoleon. The insights it provides into France's relationship with racial equality are particularly interesting. I highly recommend this book.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eveno North Plainfield, NJ, United States 09-19-12
    Eveno North Plainfield, NJ, United States 09-19-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Informative"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes...It is a historical treasure


    What did you like best about this story?

    It connects the dots to another book that I appreciate, the Count of Monte Cristo.


    Have you listened to any of Paul Michael’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    5 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    adrien marietta, GA, United States 03-19-14
    adrien marietta, GA, United States 03-19-14 Member Since 2013
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    "A superb book"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Black Count to be better than the print version?

    Audio


    What did you like best about this story?

    It was a story of history, slavery, love, deception and heartbreak all into one.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    General Dumas standing up to Bonaparte in Egypt


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    patricia hampton bays, ny, United States 12-15-13
    patricia hampton bays, ny, United States 12-15-13 Member Since 2013
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    "History forgotten"
    What made the experience of listening to The Black Count the most enjoyable?

    Obviously a ton of research and love was but into this book. I loved the fact that the author was so invested in telling the story of Alexandra Dumas. A great resin whom history has forgotten.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The detail of Dumas' life. He is an inspiration, and it is also heartbreaking. Also gives insight into the FrenchRevolution from the point of view of a believer in tht freedoms.


    What does Paul Michael bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Kept it interesting.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    His spirit lives on ! Great idea to make a film!


    Any additional comments?

    Clearly this book was well researched and wonderful to read. Could have been edited a bit better. It does jump around a bit.
    We should try and get a statue to Dumas back up which is similar to the one that destroyed when France was invaded in WW2.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Alexandria, VA, United States 10-21-13
    Amazon Customer Alexandria, VA, United States 10-21-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Love Alexander Dumas? Your gonna love his Father!"
    What made the experience of listening to The Black Count the most enjoyable?

    Personally, I love this book, audio or book form. It feels like you are personally connected with the mid century intrigues, the daring brilliance and the political aspirations of this brash and sharp young man who inspired his young son. Simply, you can't help but continue listening. I highly recommend this most excellent book on a truly amazing man!


    What did you like best about this story?

    The man himself, Alexander Dumas, Sr. What a treasure trove of a find in this one man's life story that would become the essence of complete AWSOMENESS!


    What about Paul Michael’s performance did you like?

    He did this story well, carries it with polish and distinction like the subject himself.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I love how his future father in law asks only for him to achieve a rank of Captain in the army before he could marry his daughter. But instead, by chance, Alexander Dumas returns to her father 4 ranks higher than Captain and marries the girl and his father in law is bursting with pride in such a man for his daughter.


    Any additional comments?

    Best book / Best Biography written in a long long time. This guy did it all and did it well. My mamma always said, "It ain't bragging if it's true!"

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Felicia Jordan Colorado 08-29-13
    Felicia Jordan Colorado 08-29-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A man too good for his times"

    Tom Reiss’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book is both a compelling biography of a forgotten hero and a concise, riveting account of a revolutionary decade in French and European history.

    Alex Dumas, father of the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, took advantage of a narrow window of opportunity for black and mixed-race people opened by the French Revolution. He rose to the military rank of general, loved by his troops and celebrated for his bravery, combat prowess and battlefield heroism. His famous son Alexandre used his father’s life – including Alex’s two years of captivity as a prisoner of war – as the inspiration for some of the most famous episodes in his novels.

    Alex was born the son of a French aristocratic planter and a black slave mother in the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). His father eventually took him to France (but temporarily sold him first to pay for his own passage) and gave him a gentleman’s education. Alex learned courtly manners as well as fencing and riding, excelling at all these arts. He enlisted in the military under his mother’s name of Dumas, and when the French overthrew their monarchy, quickly rose in the ranks of the revolutionary army.

    Reiss used Alex’s life as a springboard to discuss the cruel French sugar trade and the efforts at black emancipation brought about by revolutionary ideals. In the French colonies, slaves did the back-breaking work of harvesting sugar cane, subject to all kinds of cruelties and indignities, while their white masters got rich. But sexual relationships between masters and slaves resulted in a class of affluent free blacks, who formed their own cultured society in Saint-Domingue. In the meantime, liberal attorneys back home worked to secure the rights of black and mixed-race people lucky enough to set foot on French soil. The monarchy attempted to thwart emancipation but was often defeated in French courts.

    The French Revolution swept away distinctions of race and class – at least in theory. Enlisting just before the fall of the Bastile, Alex rose quickly in rank to command huge armies as the French attempted to spread their revolutionary zeal to neighboring countries. Before listening to this book, I had known nothing of the wars fought with foreign powers, even as the revolution turned bloody at home. Alex battled with Austrian monarchists in the French Alps, and later with Mamelukes in Egypt as part of Napoleon’s ill-fated expedition. He prided himself on riding first into battle in front of his men, but his brash outspokenness sometimes put him at odds with other generals, including despot-in-training Napoleon.

    Throughout the book, Reiss painted an ultimately tragic picture of a man who was simply too good for his times. Idealistic and principled, Alex abhorred cruelty and would not allow his men to plunder conquered villages or to mistreat the inhabitants. He protected the weak and powerless, no matter which side they were on. His personality shines through in the many excerpts from his letters quoted by Reiss, including his sincere love for his wife and children. Alex’s humanity stood in sharp contrast to the atrocities committed by his countrymen during the Terror, and later, to the duplicitous backstabber Napoleon.

    Alex’s butting of heads with the little Corsican dictator eventually proved his downfall. As First Counsel, Napoleon not only swept away black emancipation, but denied the general and his family the pension due him. After a nightmarish sea crossing, capture in Naples and long months in a cell, Alex died in France and was quickly forgotten, swept aside by the tide of history.

    The book’s narrator, Paul Michael, was the sort of skillful reader who disappeared into the text. His reading was so pitch-perfect, I did not focus at all on his idiosyncrasies, but on the compelling story unfolding in my ears.

    The highest praise I can give this book is it made me eager to learn much more about the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon and the slave revolts that led to the founding of the modern nation of Haiti.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patrick E. Murray San Antonio, TX 08-22-13
    Patrick E. Murray San Antonio, TX 08-22-13 Member Since 2010

    pemurray

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    "Great book"
    Would you listen to The Black Count again? Why?

    Amazing true stiry


    What other book might you compare The Black Count to and why?

    The Count of Monti Cristois the only book that can compare.


    What about Paul Michael’s performance did you like?

    pretty good


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonnie Bellmore, NY, United States 08-12-13
    Bonnie Bellmore, NY, United States 08-12-13 Member Since 2001

    BJS

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What an eyeopener. This is a must read."
    Where does The Black Count rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    If your are into European history, especially the French revolution, you must read/listen to this book. General Dumas, was betrayed much like the hero of "The Count of Monte Cristo" one of my all time favorite books. The hero Edmond Dantes, General Dumas, is the son of a Slave and a French count. It is a very dramatic and heart wrenching story. General Dumas is given many troops to lead and wins many battles for the French. However he is an honest and good man, he even give up a huge treasure he find to Napoleon to help support the troops......I bet much of that money never got to the troops. The army loved the black general, but Napoleon was jealous of the man, and when he found the chance he made sure he was thrown into a dungeon, and slowly poisoned over almost 3 years.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    General Alex Dumas (The black Count) who is loyal to wife, country, and children, even though his county wants to wipe his memory off the face of the world. Blacks were free in France during the revolution, allowing many blacks to intermarry and rise to high levels in political power. HOWEVER, once Napoleon made himself Emperor, he reversed everything back to pre-revolution times which made blacks property and slaves. Dumas after getting out of Italy, almost blind and deaf, crippled because of lack of food. He came home not to be acknowledged as a great General who won many battles, but to find out that his history was erased. He got no payments for his service and when he died, his wife, who was a white woman, had to work to make a living her children and young son Alexandre Dumas II became one of the worlds greatest writers of novels. He was taught by his mother. His first novel was "The Count of Monte Cristo" written well after Napoleon no longer was alive. However the villain is the story who wishes to make Edmand Dantes vanish from everyone's memory was based on Napoleon. Almost all characters in his books had something of his father in it. He adored his father, wanted him remembered.


    What does Paul Michael bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Beautifully read with the correct accents on French words. Very expressive and brought you into the story of this mans life.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Yes, there is not a statue, painting, anything of import commemorating this great war hero of France. Maybe Race, however when Alexandre Dumas II had enough money to persuade other artists to help raise monies to make a statue for his father Lilly Langtree helped rais funds. The statue was made but never uncovered. The Nazi's destroyed when they marched into Paris. Since then the only this book and the research of Tom Reiss brought this incredible story to light. They also talk about how the French used slaves in Haiti, it made our south look good. The French worked slaves to death, literately. If the ate or drank when they weren't supposed to they would have to ware metal cages around their heads in brutal heat. The slaves would work 18 hours a day or more, with little to eat or drink. If they dies they were easily replaced. Some parts of this made me gag. I think every country has a history of brutality, and the FRENCH really had their moment.


    Any additional comments?

    I really hope that this book will fore the French to do something to honor this great General, it is a pity that greatness should be erased due to petty jealousy. Napoleon got what he deserved, but nothing like what he did to The Black Count.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andre Hercules, California, United States 07-19-13
    Andre Hercules, California, United States 07-19-13 Member Since 2013

    Poet and Storyteller. The duo deaths of my poet parents in 2012 turned me into a reader and listener of tales so I can write my own.

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    "A Boy's Adoration for His Father"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Black Count to be better than the print version?

    I do not know if I would consider the audio edition of The Black Count to be superior than the print version. I placed the print version on my Kindle wish list months ago but never got around to reading it even in an e-book format. The audio edition gave me the option to listen to The Black Count at the gym, during my commutes, and while cooking. I can maximize spaces of time where I cannot take either a print nor an e-book.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Alexandre Dumas, father and son. The Black Count is basically a love story between a son and his father. At the age of four Dumas Jr. lost his father who became such a fixture of his adoration and imagination that the general's extraordinary life provided ideas for his son's book The Count of Monte Cristo. What comes across in Tom Reiss' book is a little boy looking up to his father, the hero. Even though he was an adult when he wrote, recalled, and rewrote the tales and details of his father's life, Dumas Jr. remained that little boy who had his father ripped from him and resurrected him in his novels.


    Have you listened to any of Paul Michael’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    What I enjoy about Paul Michael's performance is that he fades into the background and lets the story take center stage.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I nearly cried at the death scene of the father, having lost my own father a year ago. The scene was too real, too raw, and quite painful. I relived my own loss. I felt the love between the father and the son.


    Any additional comments?

    My first Audible book. I am hooked. I cannot think of a better way for me to start Audible than with The Black Count. Tom Reiss' research and writing impressed me. He well deserved the awards and accolades he received.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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