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)
An old broad that enjoys books of all types. Would rather read than write reviews though. I know what I like, and won't be bothered by crap.
I wanted to love this book. I expected to love it. It won the Pulitzer Prize this year. I can't "love" it because it didn't engage me like a good biography should.
I wasn't thrilled with the narrator, but he was competent. Some of his pronunciations seemed off to me but overall he did an adequate job.
What most disturbed me about this book is the author's tendency to use modern references to explain the way things happened in Dumas' world. This dates the book to me and may cause it too be irrelevant in the future when people don't understand his explanations. For example he makes a case that the "99%" were really the 94% in France when the Revolution began. Twenty years from now, will people understand what he was getting at?
I liked the author's introduction and epilogue in which he ties up the story of Alexandre Dumas by first explaining how he got the information from a safe in a small town. The only person who had the combination to the safe and had promised to share with him the information ( a treasure trove of letters and documents on the Dumas family) dies suddenly days before his arrival. He then has to wine and dine the mayor until finally he is given permission to have a locksmith get into the safe and allow him one day to photograph everything in it. That seems to be right out of an Alexander Dumas, Pere novel.
The epilogue states the sad story of a statue commissioned by Sarah Bernhardt and friends honoring each of the three Dumas, Grandfather, Father and Son. Hitler's destruction of it and the sorry story of getting anyone interested in getting it remade.
The remarkable life of a half black who becomes a General in the Army of the Revolution, his exploits as a swordsman and horseman and his sad imprisonment were an inspiration for his son to write some of the greatest adventure novels ever written.
He was a remarkable man and deserves more recognition.
I am always drawn to real-life stories rather than imaginary tales. That is because in reality, they are much more fantastic in every sense of the word. The story within this book is remarkable and almost dream like. Yet, through thorough and painful research, we are given a tale of the unbelievable in 18th century France. A time in which many a citizen lived in fear of its government and the notorious guillotine. Through this cloud rose a man of color, from the French colonies, that led many French soldiers to glory. I loved this book! General Alexandre Dumas will stay with me for the rest of my life. A must read!
It ranks right up at the top with my favorite Clive Cussler and Bernard Cornwell novels. It smacks of true history!
The Black Count was my favorite character. His story was so compelling. The book made him really come to life.
A wonderful French language pronunciation
The Real Count of Monte Cristo
It was difficult to take breaks from the book. I did not want to put it down.
I rarely listen to nonfiction because I feel the medium lends itself to performance, and there's not much to add to most nonfiction. However, as a huge fan of Dumas, I had to hear this, and I wasn't disappointed. In addition to the amazing life of the first Alex Dumas, you learn enough about the times to understand the unique place he occupied, without getting too bogged down in details.
Glad I got over being too snobby to listen to audio books!
I had just gotten done with "The Count of Monte Cristo" and had just learned about Dumas' interesting ancestry when this came out so it was perfect timing. I liked learning about the history of the time period in France and the Caribbean as well as the biographical details. Dumas' time spent in Egypt with the French forces was especially interesting to me. Very interesting and narrated expertly.
YES-I will! This story is fascinating, I knew nothing about this subject and I'm a bit of a history lover. Why isn't this widely known outside of France? or is it just me? I don't ever remember his name coming up when studying the French Revolution or Napoleon. There is so much here you will need to listen to it more than once.
Candice Millard: Destiny of the Republic. The level of detail that went into the research to bring this exceptional man to life, to restore his rightful place in world history.
I think the thing that really stands out in my mind is death by medical treatment, how did this man survive the doctors while being held prisoner? President Garfield was not so lucky in Candice Millard book.
Yes-I turned it on, on Saturday morning when I got up and listened to it all day while doing my housework and errands, I did not finish, but I did the same on Sunday and was able to finish it in two settings.
This book should be made into a film, as long as Hollywood doesn't try to impose 21st century morals onto 18th century life. Let the French take their own lumps for the cruelty of the sugar plantations and slave trade and post revolution anti black laws.
The Black Count was a fun, fascinating listen. As Reiss makes clear early, there's not exactly a surplus of historical source documentation on the titular general - much of what's new here comes from one furious visit to a single safe. But Reiss artfully combines these documents (letters, military communiques, etc.) with his son's (often subtly exaggerated) retellings of events and insightful summaries of relevant history. The result is that the reader/listener feels like they're taking part in an exciting investigation, criss-crossing the many worlds that Dumas inhabited -from his roots in brutal 18th century colonial Saint-Domengue to Enlightenment and Napoleonic France to the shadows of a Naples prison. I found it consistently engaging - it made me want to read up on a long list of subjects.
While it was certainly a five star listen for me, my only hesitation might be in recommending this would be to someone deeply familiar with French history. If you're well read on their colonies, the enlightenment and Revolution, there might be a bit too much survey of well-covered events. For me, though, this was a refreshing way to engage with historical subjects I haven't given enough attention to.
Fine art photographer, retired English professor, dog mom to an adorable Maltese mix, long-time Californian, genealogist, what else?
This is an excellent book; it tells the true story of Alexandre Dumas Pere's father, the French Revolution, and of a time when it was possible for a half-black man to rise to the level of general in the French military. It's the backstory to "The Count of Monte Cristo," and it's fascinating from start to finish. It includes excerpts from Dumas Pere's memoirs of his father and other historical documents from the time. It's heavy on military history and maybe that's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's an engrossing tale, so give it a try.
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