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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristoby Tom Reiss
2013 Pulitzer Prize for Biography
Synopses & Reviews
By the author of the internationally bestselling biography The Orientalist, The Black Count brings to life one of history’s great forgotten heroes: a man almost unknown today yet with a personal story that is strikingly familiar. His swashbuckling exploits appear in The Three Musketeers, and his triumphs and ultimate tragic fate inspired The Count of Monte Cristo. His name is Alex Dumas. Father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas, Alex has become, through his son's books, the model for a captivating modern protagonist: the wronged man in search of justice.
Born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but then made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.
He was only 32 when he was given command of 53,000 men, the reward for series of triumphs that many regarded as impossible, and then topped his previous feats by leading a raid up a frozen cliff face that secured the Alps for France. It was after his subsequent heroic service as Napoleon’s cavalry commander that Dumas was captured and cast into a dungeon — and a harrowing ordeal commenced that inspired one of the world’s classic works of fiction.
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. Drawing on hitherto unknown documents, letters, battlefield reports and Dumas' handwritten prison diary, The Black Count is a groundbreaking masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.
"Alex Dumas, an extraordinary man whose sensational life had been largely lost to history solely because of his race, takes the spotlight in this dynamic tale. Thanks to Reiss's excellent research, combined with the passionate memorial his son, Alexandre Dumas, consistently built in his own novels and memoir, Dumas's life has been brought back to light. Father to the well-known novelist and clear inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as the adventurous spirit of The Three Musketeers and other stories, Dumas (1762 – 1806) rose through the ranks of the French army from a lowly private in the dragoons to become a respected general who marched into Egypt at Napoleon's side. (The rivalry and juxtaposition between these two leaders proves fascinating.) Born in what is now Haiti to a French nobleman father and a slave mother, the biracial Dumas chanced to come of age during the French Revolution, a brief period of equality in the French empire; he was thus granted numerous opportunities that the son of a slave 20 years before him (or even 20 years later) would not have enjoyed. Reiss capitalizes on his subject's charged personality as well as the revolutionary times in which he lived to create an exciting narrative. Agent: Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Tom Reiss's The Black Count is totally thrilling — a fascinating, beautifully-written and deeply-researched biography that brings to life one of history's great forgotten characters: the swashbuckling, flamboyant, and romantic mulatto count whose true life belongs in a Hollywood movie or Alexander Dumas story. No wonder the Black Count helped inspire his son's masterpieces The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers." Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Jerusalem: The Biography and Young Stalin
"The Black Count is an important and necessary book about one of the great forgotten heroes of the eighteenth century. Before there was Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, there was his father, General Dumas, whose extraordinary life and achievements were the inspiration behind many of his more famous son's novels. Tom Reiss has written a masterful biography; richly detailed, highly researched and completely absorbing. The Black Count is a triumph." Amanda Foreman, New York Times bestselling author of A World on Fire and Georgiana
"Rousing and thought provoking, The Black Count is an adventure like no other. I marveled at every twist and turn of this remarkable true story. It’s a brilliant choice of subject, brought to life with the charm and personal touch that have become the trademark of Tom Reiss." Laurence Bergreen, New York Times bestselling author of Columbus: The Four Voyages and Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life
"Colorful and utterly captivating, The Black Count proves that truth is not just stranger than fiction, but in this case is the root of such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Tom Reiss uses the incredible adventures of mulatto French general Alexander Dumas, father of the famed novelist, to inform his lucid exploration of Caribbean slavery and revolt, the French Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. This is history that is vibrant, gripping, and tragic." William Dietrich, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author of Napoleon’s Pyramids and The Emerald Storm
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.
About the Author
Tom Reiss is the author of the celebrated international bestseller The Orientalist. His biographical pieces have appeared The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications. He makes his home in New York City.
Table of Contents
prologue, part 1 • February 26, 1806
prologue, part 2 • January 25, 2007
chapter 1 • The Sugar Factory
chapter 2 • The Black Code
chapter 3 • Norman Conquest
chapter 4 • “No One Is a Slave in France”
chapter 5 • Americans in Paris
chapter 6 • Black Count in the City of Light
chapter 7 • A Queen’s Dragoon
chapter 8 • Summers of Revolution
chapter 9 • “Regeneration by Blood”
chapter 10 • “The Black Heart Also Beats for Liberty”
chapter 11 • “Mr. Humanity”
chapter 12 • The Battle for the Top of the World
chapter 13 • The Bottom of the Revolution
chapter 14 • The Siege
chapter 15 • The Black Devil
chapter 16 • Leader of the Expedition
chapter 17 • “ The Delirium of His
chapter 18 • Dreams on Fire
chapter 19 • Prisoner of the Holy Faith Army
chapter 20 • “ Citizeness Dumas . . . Is Worried
About the Fate of Her Husband”
chapter 21 • The Dungeon
chapter 22 • Wait and Hope
epilogue • The Forgotten Statue
Author’s Note on Names
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