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)
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.
It was a story of history, slavery, love, deception and heartbreak all into one.
General Dumas standing up to Bonaparte in Egypt
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.
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.
Kept it interesting.
His spirit lives on ! Great idea to make a film!
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.
Just a woman with an unhealthy addiction to literature, the beach and a ice cold drink.
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!
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!
He did this story well, carries it with polish and distinction like the subject himself.
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.
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!"
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.
Amazing true stiry
The Count of Monti Cristois the only book that can compare.
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.
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.
Beautifully read with the correct accents on French words. Very expressive and brought you into the story of this mans life.
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.
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.
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