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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

Critic Reviews

"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

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 01-27-13

Truth more unbelivable than fiction

This is a true story of Alexander Dumas's father, a General in the French Army during the French Revolution. General Alex Dumas was born in Saint Dominique (Haiti) of a black slave woman and a white French Marquis. The book does discuss some of the history of Haiti. I recently read a book "Island Beneath The Sea" by Isabel Allende that covers the history of the island. If this story of Dumas interest you at all the Allende book will also be informative. I found the information about equality during the revolution interesting, the blacks found freedom in France while the U.S. and England still were slave traders. Dumas goes from commanding 53,000 men to secure the Alps for France to Egypt to being imprisoned in Naples. His story is the bases of all the stories written by his son. I was fascinated by tales of his imprisonment and the medical treatment he received. If you are interested in history you also will find this a must read book. Tome Reiss did a great job documenting the story and Paul Michael did a good job narrating the book.

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

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  • Melinda
  • Shoreline, WA, United States
  • 01-13-13

The story behind the greatest novelist of all time

The Black Count starts off as a marvelous, brave tale describing the way blacks were treated in France the 2 centuries before before Napoleon Bonaparte came into power, and the influence thereafter on the unlikely man who would become Alexander Dumas who would then give us the magnificent Count of Monte Cristo and it's more famous brother, The Three Musketeers.

The author masterfully gives us 2 hours of background in the centuries leading up to the birth of Dumas' father known as "The Black Count" and then the unlikely story of Dumas' rise to fame, not only because he was a genius of a writer. He was a grand character (both men, really) in this snappy rendition of the slightly mysterious Alexander Dumas... a huge celebrity during his time here who left this world at much too young of an age.

I don't like to give away everything in a review, and I'll continue that tradition here, but if you are a lover of Dumas' books as I am (TCOMC is my favorite book of all time), then you will love this well told story of how it came to be that an obese mulatto becomes one of the most cherished authors of all time and a major celebrity during his all too brief life in Paris.

This is a great book for history lovers, biography lovers and really, anyone interested in black culture or in ancient France (and how their policies toward blacks may have shaped our own 200 years ago) and just about anyone else. It is a joyous, intriguing story of how one of how this great, great author came to be and lived his life and how his father's life shaped his own. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's one of the best books I have listened to in so long. I am giving 5 stars for narration, but it's nothing special, except that it is expertly done. It's a straightforward read, since there are no "characters" to play. It's the story that really shines here.

By all means, treat yourself to this wonderful little known bit of history. You will be a richer person for doing it. And if you haven't read the unabridged The Count of Monte Cristo yet, you won't be able to resist after this. I'll probably have to re-listen to it now. Be sure to look for the one read by John Lee, available on Audible.com, which is so masterfully read and executed.

~~ML

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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The Unknown Story of Alexandre Dumas Grandpere

What made the experience of listening to The Black Count the most enjoyable?

Tom Reiss writes extremely well and picks fascinating topics. This story of the son of a French marquis and a San Domaine (now Haiti) slave woman who rises to become a celebrated general in the French revolution during a brief era when all men (and women) were, in fact, considered equal. Because of highest ideals of the revolution, being half black was no longer an obstacle to accomplishing great things. Alas, the revolution was betrayed and the period was brief; racism quickly returned. It's a fascinating story of the man who would father the novelist Alexandre Dumas but who was clearly a remarkable man, a celebrity in his own right and a fascinating figure in French history.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • Southlake, TX, United States
  • 09-25-12

Wonderfully told

This is a fascinating story that is wonderfully told. Tom Reiss's detailed account is amazingly vivid not only of the period but he by giving the whereabouts or outcomes of many places and events today. Paul Michael gives a wonderful performance as the narrator. I cannot remember enjoying a book more!

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Who knew Alexancre Dumas?

What did you love best about The Black Count?

Meticulously research, carefully crafted story of a mulatto of the New World whose intelligence, elegance, and courage promote him to a leader of the Revolution who later led Napoleon's troops into Egypt.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Black Count?

REailzing that the Count and Three Musketeers were modeled on this man.

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

Dumas's character as well as his derring do

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

A fine man in all regards who fought racism even in France, which prided itself on equality for all--except blacks.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Remarkable

This is simply an absolutely incredible story. Thank you for bringing thîs fascinating story of the achievements to life.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Necessary Companion to Dumas' Writings

Alex Dumas was a larger than life man, immortalized in Tom Reiss' brilliant book. It's not hard to see why he was both an asset and a threat to Napoleon. I am a fan of Alexandre Dumas' novels and this book gives me great insight on what drove him to write his stories, especially the Count of Monte Cristo. It's seems so hard to believe that even with the success of the son, the life of his impressive father remained in obscurity.

The lasting effect of his imprisonment is so difficult to take in. He was a vital, imposing man wasted down to a shell due to horrific treatment, all of his heroic actions on the battlefield forgotten and his family forced into poverty.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Steven
  • Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  • 03-05-13

Inspiration behind the inspiration is inspiring!

If you could sum up The Black Count in three words, what would they be?

Fascinating historical gem.

What did you like best about this story?

I have always loved the tales woven by Alexandre Dumas. In this story I found that the father was the real life prototype for his famous son's best heroes. As a man and a father I found that to be very appealing.

Which character – as performed by Paul Michael – was your favorite?

Being a historical narrative rather than a novel, this question is not really relevant. The reader was adequate to the task neither making or breaking the value of the audiobook.

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

No, I didn't find "The Black Count" to be so compelling that I couldn't walk away from it for a while, but it certainly held my interest while I was able to listen. As a non-fiction recounting of a man's life and times it was better than most.

Any additional comments?

This audiobook really fleshed out for me a time in history (i.e. the French revolution) which has been somewhat lacking and it did it in a way which has caused me to search for other material pertaining to the life of slaves in the Caribbean, especially Haiti. I found "The Black Count" to be a very enjoyable and worthwhile investment in time and a book credit.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Michelle
  • Ventura, California, USA
  • 02-02-13

Excellent historical perspective

If you could sum up The Black Count in three words, what would they be?

History made palpable.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Black Count?

The most poignantly memorable story in the book was of the Alex Dumas statue in Paris being paid for by Sarah Bernhardt and another individual (whose name escapes me) to honor the memory Alex Dumas. It almost mirrored the sad history of the man himself. The statue was built, but was not officially opened and was ultimately destroyed by Nazi despots during WWII.

Which scene was your favorite?

Alex Dumas holding off the Austrians at the pass.

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

It doesn't need a tagline, as the title is perfect!

Any additional comments?

I don't know what possessed Tom Reiss to research this book so carefully and write it, but I thank him for doing so. If I taught history, I would use this book in my class!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Excellent story and fascinating history lesson

Where does The Black Count rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is one of the best historical audiobooks in my library. Really drew me in to the real-life details of the French revolutionary period and the début of Napoleon Bonaparte as well as the start of the Dumas family fame. Different in perspective from Dickens' Tale of Two Cities and from Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, The Black Count speaks of the political and military roles in the revolution.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful