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

by Tom Reiss

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5347118,880 (4.11)92
Member:rebeccanyc
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
Rating:
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 69 (next | show all)
Although many of you have probably read or watched The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, few people know that many of the adventures in these classics were inspired by the author’s father, also named Alex Dumas. From exciting sword fights to wrongful imprisonment, this true story has it all. Why did Alex Dumas have so many exciting adventures? In the name of “liberty, fraternity, and equality” of course! That’s right… Alex Dumas was a hero of the French Revolution, one who embodied the best qualities of that revolution. Not only did he take advantage of the unparalleled racial equality it caused, his stunning rise through the military never lead him to stop treating all others with the respect and human dignity he believed they deserved.


This was an amazing story which reminded me why I love narrative non-fiction. I always enjoy a good adventure story, but the fact that these adventures actually happened adds another layer of awesome to the reading experience. However, the author didn’t just happen to have a good story to work with; he did a great job with the writing. The writing style was typical of scholarly popular biographies, clearly well-researched and informative without the language becoming too scholarly for a fun read. It was sometimes funny and even included the occasional pop culture reference. This writing style, in addition to the engrossing story, made The Black Count a very accessible read.

Something that’s very important to a good biography is the use of primary sources and the author does a great job with those as well. Snippets of letters by and about Dumas are seamlessly worked into the story told by the author. The sources added a lot to the narrative, including support for the author’s inferences about Dumas’ feelings and character. By the end of the book, I felt like we’d really gotten to know him. In addition to the personal anecdotes about Dumas, the author introduces broader social issues of the time and details of life during that time period. This context, as well as Dumas’ interaction with famous historical figures such as Napoleon and Robespierre, really helped me understand how he fit into his time period. This mix of personal anecdotes and exciting adventures with historical details exemplifies what I look for in narrative non-fiction. If you also love narrative non-fiction or swash-buckling adventure stories, you should definitely check this out.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Jun 29, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Early reviewer copy. I don't read much history, but the narrative of his life was interesting enough to keep me entertained the whole way through. Worth the read :) ( )
  noah.richards | Jun 20, 2014 |
I am not one to pick up a book solely because it has won a Pulitzer Prize. Sometimes I happen on such books by accident. With The Black Count, it was not until I heard the description that I thought: I must read this book!

In The Black Count, author Tom Reiss discusses the life of General Alexandre "Alex" Dumas, a mixed race military man who believed in France's Revolutionary cause for freedom. Little was known about him except for the fact that he was novelist Alexandre Dumas', the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, father. The novelist was heavily influenced by his father's exploits and were incorporated into his two aforementioned works.

Reiss went on a tireless campaign to discover more about General Dumas and found out about his true patrimony. Dumas was the son of a white miserly nobleman named Alexandre Antoine Davy, the Marquis de la Pailleterie and an unknown black slave woman named Cessette. When Dumas went into the French army under a lowly rank, he changed his name to Alex Dumas, citing his parents as Cessette and Antoine Dumas.

General Dumas rose through the ranks, winning battle after battle. In the midst, he found time to marry Mary-Louise Labouret and had three children: Alexandrine-Aimée, Louise, and Alexandre. Louise had died at age 3 from causes unknown while her father was abroad. Dumas rose through it all until he found a formidable enemy in fellow General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was able to manipulate the French government until he got it back to the pre-reveloutionary ways, most importantly, before France abolished slavery.

Unfortunately, after General Dumas was wrongfully imprionsed and unsuccessfully poisoned for two years, this was the France he returned to; this help to break his spirit. But he would not be long for this world because he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He would die when little Alexandre was 4 years old. The remaining Dumas' would live in poverty until Alexandre reached fame with books.

There are no words to explain how much I love The Black Count! It's ridiculous how much I enjoyed it. Tom Reiss took his time and did his due dilligence to recount to the story of a remarkable man and Dumas was a remarkable man.

He had such honor, integrity, and heart. Considering how unsavory his father was, it was amazing how well General Dumas turned out! I loved how much the novelist Dumas loved his father. He was always in total awe. At least it was true and not just a product of child's imagination. General Dumas was a hero who got a very raw deal in the end. ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
I am not one to pick up a book solely because it has won a Pulitzer Prize. Sometimes I happen on such books by accident. With The Black Count, it was not until I heard the description that I thought: I must read this book!

In The Black Count, author Tom Reiss discusses the life of General Alexandre "Alex" Dumas, a mixed race military man who believed in France's Revolutionary cause for freedom. Little was known about him except for the fact that he was novelist Alexandre Dumas', the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, father. The novelist was heavily influenced by his father's exploits and were incorporated into his two aforementioned works.

Reiss went on a tireless campaign to discover more about General Dumas and found out about his true patrimony. Dumas was the son of a white miserly nobleman named Alexandre Antoine Davy, the Marquis de la Pailleterie and an unknown black slave woman named Cessette. When Dumas went into the French army under a lowly rank, he changed his name to Alex Dumas, citing his parents as Cessette and Antoine Dumas.

General Dumas rose through the ranks, winning battle after battle. In the midst, he found time to marry Mary-Louise Labouret and had three children: Alexandrine-Aimée, Louise, and Alexandre. Louise had died at age 3 from causes unknown while her father was abroad. Dumas rose through it all until he found a formidable enemy in fellow General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was able to manipulate the French government until he got it back to the pre-reveloutionary ways, most importantly, before France abolished slavery.

Unfortunately, after General Dumas was wrongfully imprionsed and unsuccessfully poisoned for two years, this was the France he returned to; this help to break his spirit. But he would not be long for this world because he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He would die when little Alexandre was 4 years old. The remaining Dumas' would live in poverty until Alexandre reached fame with books.

There are no words to explain how much I love The Black Count! It's ridiculous how much I enjoyed it. Tom Reiss took his time and did his due dilligence to recount to the story of a remarkable man and Dumas was a remarkable man.

He had such honor, integrity, and heart. Considering how unsavory his father was, it was amazing how well General Dumas turned out! I loved how much the novelist Dumas loved his father. He was always in total awe. At least it was true and not just a product of child's imagination. General Dumas was a hero who got a very raw deal in the end. ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
I am not one to pick up a book solely because it has won a Pulitzer Prize. Sometimes I happen on such books by accident. With The Black Count, it was not until I heard the description that I thought: I must read this book!

In The Black Count, author Tom Reiss discusses the life of General Alexandre "Alex" Dumas, a mixed race military man who believed in France's Revolutionary cause for freedom. Little was known about him except for the fact that he was novelist Alexandre Dumas', the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, father. The novelist was heavily influenced by his father's exploits and were incorporated into his two aforementioned works.

Reiss went on a tireless campaign to discover more about General Dumas and found out about his true patrimony. Dumas was the son of a white miserly nobleman named Alexandre Antoine Davy, the Marquis de la Pailleterie and an unknown black slave woman named Cessette. When Dumas went into the French army under a lowly rank, he changed his name to Alex Dumas, citing his parents as Cessette and Antoine Dumas.

General Dumas rose through the ranks, winning battle after battle. In the midst, he found time to marry Mary-Louise Labouret and had three children: Alexandrine-Aimée, Louise, and Alexandre. Louise had died at age 3 from causes unknown while her father was abroad. Dumas rose through it all until he found a formidable enemy in fellow General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was able to manipulate the French government until he got it back to the pre-reveloutionary ways, most importantly, before France abolished slavery.

Unfortunately, after General Dumas was wrongfully imprionsed and unsuccessfully poisoned for two years, this was the France he returned to; this help to break his spirit. But he would not be long for this world because he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He would die when little Alexandre was 4 years old. The remaining Dumas' would live in poverty until Alexandre reached fame with books.

There are no words to explain how much I love The Black Count! It's ridiculous how much I enjoyed it. Tom Reiss took his time and did his due dilligence to recount to the story of a remarkable man and Dumas was a remarkable man.

He had such honor, integrity, and heart. Considering how unsavory his father was, it was amazing how well General Dumas turned out! I loved how much the novelist Dumas loved his father. He was always in total awe. At least it was true and not just a product of child's imagination. General Dumas was a hero who got a very raw deal in the end. ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 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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