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)
Having previously only been vaguely aware of details regarding the French Revolution, The Black Count provided a helpful primer about the vast and deeply dark period in France. The author did well, however, to elevate the(few) good accomplishments of the Revolution.
General Dumas lived before my minds eye and I felt outrage as the epilogue revealed the last and ongoing betrayal perpetrated against the heroic and dedicated republican of France.
Anyone that enjoys a well woven tail, especially historically intriguing, will revel in the tale of General Dumas.
Through this outstanding story I learned about the French colony (modern day Haiti), the French Revolution, the Terror, invasion of Egypt, and the incredible injustice to the courageous, loyal General Dumas. Thank you. I completely enjoyed it.
Once the generations of Dumas are understood the book is quite interesting. Getting past the first quarter of the book is a challenge.
I have always loved the Count of Monte Cristo and other stories of Alexander Dumas which is what attracted me to this book. This a fabulous book about his father's unbelievable life and his place in French history...a story that has not been told. Reading about his father's life, you can see the inspiration for Dumas' stories. I highly recommend it!
Books about other great heroes of the Revolutionary period such as George Washington. Also, great men who have faced tremendous opposition and yet thrived in their leadership such as Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King.
The depth of his research in phenomenal. As I listened to the places he visited I tried to make note of them so that I can visit myself. I will buy the hard copy just for this purpose
I don't want to be a spoiler, but I was very very saddened by the lack of recognition this hero of the French Revolution even today
You don't have to be an Alexander Dumas fan to appreciate this book. The novel stands on its own as a great piece of history.
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.
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