The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

By: Tom Reiss


Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 14, 2013)

A history nonfiction review




Simply put, The Black Count is my new favorite history book.  Reiss reveals the story of General Alex Dumas, father of famed Alexandre Dumas, in many ways.  The investigation includes the tale of Alex’s renegade aristocrat father and what’s known of his beautiful slave mother.  Reiss also explains details about his own search for information, the unique racial relations in early Haiti and revolutionary France, and several of Alexandre Dumas’ own quotes about his father.  With the premise that Alex Dumas was the true “Count of Monte Cristo,” this book includes enough swashbuckling and political analysis to inspire a film quite similar to something based on Dumas.

Reiss matches his grand premise and literary inclusions with a passionate and memorable writing style.  Napoleon treats conquered societies like medieval Lego sets he can dismantle and rebuild as he pleases and “France didn’t have a regular government, it had a bunch of caffeinated intellectuals holding all-day screaming matches in the old royal riding hall.”  It’s great fun.  Marinated in adventure, rather than a dry textbook, you can still tell that Reiss trusts his audience because of his thorough exploration of tangents.  The central figure has no competition, but Reiss realizes that there are side-stories that we want to know, like more about this mulatto master-swordsman of Europe and the backstory of one of the early French slaves to win his freedom in court.  Whereas many authors simply note such side things and leave it to the readers to look them up later, The Black Count fits it all in, without slowing down or drying up.  The swings between detail and the overall picture make the timeline slightly harder to follow, but this is a book, not a timeline, and you won’t regret it.  Even the footnotes are delightful!  They tell the truly glancing tales like the reason it’s called the “Marseillaise” and the man who pioneered vegetarianism in the west.

I can’t recommend it enough.  Go forth and find out the story behind Alexandre Dumas’ novels.


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