The Black Count, by Tom Reiss
By sixth grade all of us, I imagine, have read The Count of Monte Cristo, and perhaps know a little about Alexandre Dumas, the book’s author. Tom Reiss’ gift to readers, then, in this 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, is to draw connections between Dumas’ book, Dumas the author, and his swashbuckling father of the same name.
It’s tempting to tell the whole tale here, but let’s consider it enough to state the following:
The father was a well-off white farmer in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), the mother a black slave.
The son went to France with his father, and there received the best aristocratic education.
The son joined the French army as a common soldier and rose quickly to the General rank. During this time he performed a number of acclaimed military feats.
A jealous Napoleon used Dumas’ military skills toward his own ends, and following Dumas’ retirement, Napoleon withheld recognition and pension from Dumas.
But Reiss’ tale here is more than that of this unusual man; it’s also a complex snapshot of how egalitarian fervor following the French Revolution decayed into racism and the reinstitution of slavery under Napoleon’s dictatorship.
Such books can be a bit difficult on readers what with the abrupt gear changing from personal biography to historical backstory, but Reiss handles the task as well as any biographer . In fact it’s the backstory that will etch itself indelibly on readers’ minds. And that the Dumas family sat astride this era only ices the cake.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars
Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.