Title: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
Author: Tom Reiss
No. of Pages: 432
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 18 September 2012
Bottom Line: Outstanding biography about a truly fascinating man
“Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo – a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature.
Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave — who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.
Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East – until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
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.”
Thoughts: There are certain figures throughout history who have had a significant impact on key periods in history but remain relatively obscure. General Alex Dumas is one such figure. Not only was he one of the top generals in the post-revolution French Army, ranking even higher than Napoleon Bonaparte at one point in time, his influence on certain pre-revolutionary politics regarding slavery and the status of former slaves is remarkable. That he was forgotten by history is due more to the adage to that history is written by the victors than to any of his own failings. His story is as inspiring as it is frustrating that he was subject to the whims and jealousies of a megalomaniac.
With a subject matter as interesting as General Dumas, it would be easy to dismiss the author’s contribution to the novel. After all, Dumas’ story practically writes itself with his participation in some of the key moments in European history. However, to do so would be to ignore Mr. Reiss’ significant skill as a researcher and writer. His use of primary sources within the narrative provides an authentic note while the layout of each chapter is meticulous in its detail and organization. The flow of the story is exceptional, and a reader has no problems following the multiple historical characters that appear throughout the story.
To call Alex Dumas’ story stranger than fiction is an understatement. His prolific talents and accomplishments, his unique situation as a successful son of a black slave in an increasingly white world, as well as the conspiracies and jealousies directed towards him all create a story that is better than most fictional novels. Combined with Mr. Reiss’ exquisite writing and careful research, there is no confusion as to why The Black Count has won countless awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.