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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution,…

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte… (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Tom Reiss

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6397815,139 (4.11)115
Title:The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
Authors:Tom Reiss
Info:New York : Crown Trade, 2012.
Collections:Your library, Favorites of recent years, Read 2013
Tags:biography, history, French history, 18th century history, 19th century history

Work details

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (2012)

  1. 10
    The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père (marieke54)
  2. 10
    Georges by Alexandre Dumas (Artymedon)
    Artymedon: A novel over race relations by Alexandre Dumas who was inspired by Alex Dumas General of the French Revolution and former slave to create his fictional character Georges as narrated by Tom Reiss.
  3. 10
    The Black Jacobins by C. L. R. James (Artymedon)
    Artymedon: The three revolutions that created our modern world are the American the Haitian and the French Revolution. The story of the Black Count is the point of intersection between the three in that they tried and did for a short time create a society based on the principle of equality for man regardless of race, birth or religion. It is also the key for the lecture of Alexandre Dumas' important works [[The Count of Monte-Cristo]] and [[Georges]], the later treating the question of race. That the real father of Dumas, a general of the French revolution be less known that his illustrious son author of the "Three Musketeers" is explained by how the reaction to the French revolution and the counter coup of the Thermidorians followed by that of the strong man of the sugar lobby, Napoleon, reestablished slavery in the Antilles. It is also the story of how and how it failed to do so in St Domingue, where the Black Count was born a slave, prompting the independence of this nation as black and mulatto only Haiti followed by its economic blocade by the rest of the world. Tom Reiss not only writes wonderfully be he also researched his subject in the Castle of Vincennes France and in the Dumas archives in Villers-Cotteret because this extraordinary Black Count, unlike Edmond Dantes, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, really existed.… (more)
  4. 00
    Monsieur de Saint-George: Virtuoso, Swordsman, Revolutionary: A Legendary Life Rediscovered by Alain Guede (goddesspt2)

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Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
This is a very solid biography, which at once shows how much historians can recover about those who have been overlooked by history, and how much we will never be able to recover. The subject of Reiss' book is Alexandre Dumas—not the novelist, but his father, the son of a French aristocrat and an enslaved woman from what is now Haiti, who rose to become one of the top-ranking generals of the French revolutionary army before his tragic downfall and early death.

Reiss returns to the primary sources in ways which previous scholars who've touched on Alex Dumas have not done, despite research travails which will surely be familiar to anyone who's ever tried to do research in France. He is also good at placing Dumas' life in a broader historical context, showing how the reactionary racial policies which kicked in post-Revolution, and which were championed by Napoleon, condemned a decorated general to end his life in unemployed penury. Reiss does drift a little too much into "X must have felt", "X must have thought" at times for my taste, but overall this is a good book on a figure who has been undeservedly overlooked by the country for which he fought. As Reiss points out, there is still no memorial to General Dumas in Paris. ( )
1 vote siriaeve | Mar 12, 2015 |
blargh!! talk about dashed expectations - i am so disappointed with this book. for the most part, i avoid reading full reviews for books i have not yet had a chance to read for myself. i don't want to be swayed by outside opinions, and i like to avoid setting my expectations too high. while i have not read reviews for the black count, it was hard to avoid hearing about the critical acclaim this book was receiving. as well, a few of my GR friends have read and loved the book. so i do wonder if this outing was doomed from the start for me?

my problems with the book began early on. i felt reiss was, in some instances, repetitious (many instances, actually - seriously, how often are we to be told that alex dumas was a big, burly, strong, awesome physical specimen of a human being? 10? 20? 87?) . and then i found, at other moments, he was padding his work with supposition and inference. another issue i had with the book had to do with reiss... and this is kind of weird. he seemed too present in the work. i don't even know how to describe this, or if this makes sense? is it possible a work can be too personal for a writer? it's a bizarre question and i almost can't believe i am asking it.

in the acknowledgments, reiss mentions his mother lived in france. during WWII, as a young girl, she ended up in an orphanage. she had a copy of a 1932 edition of the count of monte cristo for a while. it was confiscated, but she did eventually get it back. when she moved to america to be raised by an uncle, the book went with her. it was part of tom reiss' childhood, and sits on his parents bookshelf to this day. this subject - the dumas men - is an important part of the reiss family. and clearly it had profound affect on tom reiss. so this revelation, so late in the book, tied into my question about whether a writer can be too close to his subject.

alex dumas is a fascinating and fantastic subject for a biography. the times he lived in were not short of action, adventure, chaos, and change. the perspective reiss offered on the treatment of blacks - and france's fluctuating positions on slavery and abolition was very interesting and was a piece of history i really didn't know too much about. napoleon was a jerk, as always. so there is much this book had going for it and much i was drawn to. i just can't get past the delivery. one thing that surprised me (possible spoiler-y information about to be dropped): novelist alexandre dumas was only 4 when his dad, the great general, died. how i managed to not know this until now is beyond me. The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were (are) big deal books for me. throughout reiss' the black count alexandre dumas is often quoted on his father. general dumas was legen .... wait for it... dary. i had the impression that they had a wonderful, close, respectful and long relationship as father and son. so i was really taken aback when i learned alexandre was so young when his father died. and, weirdly, it made me question things. how accurate is the memory of a 3yo? a 4yo? time is an interesting historian.

anyway, i found the book inconsistent and disappointing. i am sorry i feel this way. i truly was expecting excellence, so i am prepared to accept the fault is my own on this one for not keeping my expectations in check. though i don't think there's anything wrong with hoping for a great book, sometimes it becomes impossible for a book to ever live up to what's been created in a reader's mind. ( )
  DawsonOakes | Feb 26, 2015 |
Meticulously researched, Tom Reiss's The Black Count brings to life the forgotten French hero General Alexandre Dumas, father of the famed author of the same name. The elder Dumas's life spanned from 1762 until 1807 and saw him travel from a childhood on Saint-Domingue to the heights of power as a military hero during the French Revolution to his unfortunate decline during the early year's of Napoleon's reign. Reiss, much like the author Dumas, clearly developed a great affinity and admiration for the General. For those familiar with Dumas's writings they will notice many parallels between characters in his works and the real life of his father. Reiss carefully points out these similarities, but is careful to not totally invest in the statements made by the younger Dumas- often identifying many of his descriptions of his father as more hero worship than true to life. General Dumas died when his son was five, and Reiss notes that most of what the younger Dumas recounted of his father would have come to him from his mother or his father's friends.

Beyond just the fascinating life Dumas led, Reiss also connects his life to the turbulent racial policies of the French nation during this time period. He demonstrates how the initial hopes for equality and fraternity during the Revolution would eventually be corrupted and manipulated by Napoleon after his seizure of power. The initial parallel rise in power between Napoleon and Dumas during the Revolution was particularly fascinating.

Highly recommended- reads like a novel and succeeds in bringing to life a hero who should not have been forgotten. ( )
  mfedore | Oct 25, 2014 |
This is a very easy book to get involved in as you follow Alexandre Dumas' military exploits and how he manages to survive the Terror of the French Revolution. He was to Republican, loyal to his country, and caring of the men under him which put him at odds with Napoleon Bonaparte who spent French lives carelessly and left them in Egypt while he hustled home to France. I had read The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, & Thirty Years After when I was in school but was totally unaware of Alexandre Dumas pere's black and slave ancestry. The aristocratic side of his family were a disaster. Now I shall have to go back and read the Count of Monte Cristo! ( )
  lisa.schureman | Sep 20, 2014 |
Much deeper and more resonant than anticipated, this bio of Alexandre Dumas Pere's pere is fascinating, exciting, and richly informative. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!! ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
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It was nearly midnight on the night of February 26, 1806, and Alexandre Dumas, the future author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, was asleep at his uncle's house. He was not yet four years old.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 030738246X, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2012: Generations have been enthralled by Alexandre Dumas' characters, especially the wronged hero in The Count of Monte Cristo and the daring swordsmen in The Three Musketeers. Yet few realize that these memorable characters were inspired by Dumas' father, General Alex Dumas, the son of a French count and a black Haitian slave. Tom Reiss brings the elder Dumas alive with previously unpublished correspondence and meticulous research, providing the context necessary to understand how exceptional his life as a mulatto general in a slave-owning empire truly was. From single-handedly holding a bridge in the Alps against 20 enemies to spending years held captive in a fortress, Alex Dumas is a fascinating character that not even his son's vivid imagination could have dreamed up. --Malissa Kent

An Essay by Author Tom Reiss

Tom Reiss

I've always loved exploring history. It's like an uncharted hemisphere, and when you look at it closely, it has a tendency to change everything about your own time. I'm also drawn to outsiders, people who have swum against the tide. I often feel like a kind of detective hired to go find people who have been lost to history, and discover why they were lost. Whodunnit?

In this case, I found solid evidence that, of all people, Napoleon did it: he buried the memory of this great man – Gen. Alexandre Dumas, the son of a black slave who led more than 50,000 men at the height of the French Revolution and then stood up to the megalomaniacal Corsican in the deserts of Egypt. (The "famous" Alexandre Dumas is the general's son – the author of The Three Musketeers.) Letters and eyewitness accounts show that Napoleon came to hate Dumas not only for his stubborn defense of principle but for his swagger and stature – over six feet tall and handsome as a matinee idol – and for the fact that he was a black man idolized by the white French army. (I found that Napoleon's destruction of Dumas coincided with his destruction of one of the greatest accomplishments of the French Revolution – racial equality – a legacy he also did his best to bury.)

I first came across Gen. Dumas's life in the memoir of his son Alexandre, the novelist. And what a life! Alex Dumas, as he preferred to be known, was born in Saint Domingue, later Haiti, the son of a black slave and a good-for-nothing French aristocrat who came to the islands to make a quick killing and instead barely survived. In fact, to get back to France in order to claim an inheritance, he actually "pawned" his black son into slavery, but then he bought him out, brought him to Paris, and enrolled him in the royal fencing academy, and then the story begins to get interesting.

What really stuck with me from reading the memoir was the love that shows through from the son, the writer, for his father, the soldier. I could never forget the novelist describing the day his father died. His mother met him on the stairs in their house, lugging his father's gun over his shoulders, and asked him what he was doing. Little Alexandre replied: "I'm going to heaven to kill God – for killing daddy." When he grew up, he took a greater sort of revenge, infusing his father's life and spirit into fictional characters like Edmond Dantes and D'Artagnan, with shades of Porthos, too. But the image of the angry child stuck with me and drove me onward to discover every scrap of evidence I could about his forgotten father.

And recovering the life of the real man behind these stories was the ultimate historical prospecting journey for me: I learned about Maltese knights and Mameluke warriors, the tricks of 18th-century spycraft and glacier warfare, torchlight duels in the trenches and portable guillotines on the front; I got to know about how Commedia del Arte influenced Voodoo and how a Jacobin sultan influenced the Star-Spangled Banner, about chocolate cures for poisoning and the still brisk trade in Napoleonic hair clippings. I discovered the amazing forgotten civil rights movement of the 18th century – and its unraveling – though the most amazing thing about this story of a black man in a white world was how little race stood in his way: how Alex Dumas's future father-in-law never once questioned his daughter marrying a man of color but only asked that he get promoted to sergeant first (later he lovingly referred to his son-in-law simply as "the General").

Finally, the memoir set me not only on a historical adventure but on an adventure in the present day that was straight out of a Dumas novel. I began by visiting the gray town in northeast France where the general died – where I found a dead museum secretary, a locked safe, and a host of unlikely, inspiring characters to make my journey a far from lonely one.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:14 -0400)

In this extraordinary biography, Tom Reiss traces the almost unbelievable life of the man who inspired not only Monte Cristo, but all three of the Musketeers: the novelist's own father.

(summary from another edition)

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