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
"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)
The life of General Alex Dumas is by far the most interesting true life story I have ever come across. Written very well and voiced perfectly. I'm actually going to listen from the beginning again after this review.
Reiss shines a light on the life of a man who should not have been forgotten. General Alexandre Dumas, the father of the famous author, was born into slavery yet rose to one of the highest ranks in the French army only to fall to the depths of obscurity when the egalitarian values of the Republic were overturned by Napoleon. It should be required reading.
Very interesting portrait of a little known hero of france during a critical time of european history. The biography and the setting of his life were both fascinating to any student of history.
a fascinating part of history most of us never knew about. makes you want to learn more!
Tom Reiss does a masterful job telling the marvelous story of a black man in a pivotal time in the history of France and equal rights. General Alexandre Dumas was born a slave yet rose to the highest ranks of the French army. Reiss does a masterful job of weaving his prodigious research on the man, Dumas, into the bigger backdrop of revolutionary France. Reiss takes time to explain the political and social landscape of the various seasons of Dumas' life in a way that heightens interest, builds significance, yet doesn't bore or distract. Prior to reading this book I read "Bearing the Cross," a biography of Martin Luther King. Both books added to my understanding of the fight for racial freedom, but in comparison the book on King was a two dimensional reciting of events, while Reiss' Black Count provides a multi-dimensional interpretation of an extraordinary man in an extraordinary era.
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