Day 484: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

Cover for The Black CountTom Reiss, previously the author of the fascinating biography The Orientalist, seems to be drawn to unusual figures who were famous in their own time but have become virtually unknown. Such is the case with Thomas-Alexandre Dumas—the father of the famous author of The Count of Monte Cristo, among other classics—who reached the heights of his fame as a great soldier and general of revolutionary France.

Dumas, who went by Alex rather than Alexandre or Thomas, had a colorful past. He was born on the island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), the son of a black slave and a French marquis, Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie. His father was a wastrel and a scoundrel who, although he apparently did not raise his son in slavery, sold him in order to raise the passage money for his own return to France after his family had thought him dead for years. After claiming his right to his title and property (which his relatives had been maintaining and improving for years at their own expense), Pailleterie redeemed his teenage son and brought him up in privilege.

However, shortly after entering manhood, Alex broke with his father, took his mother’s name, and proceeded to make his own way as a soldier. He was the first person of color to become a general-in-chief of the French army and was the highest ranking black officer in the western world of his time.

This book is an account of Dumas’ fascinating life, in which his physical courage, ability, and principled behavior won him acclaim. Unfortunately, he was not as gifted politically and inadvertently made an enemy of Napoleon Bonaparte, who perceived him as a rival and really comes off here as a jealous and power-hungry opportunist. Bonaparte’s resentment, in combination with an abrupt change in policy of the French government to remove the rights previously granted subjects of color, ended in the loss of his career and a death in neglect and poverty.

The book is written in an energetic and informal style for the general public, although it is copiously documented in the back. The Black Count is an engrossing story of an event-filled life.

12 thoughts on “Day 484: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

  1. Emily J. March 10, 2014 / 2:05 pm

    I really want to read this one. I had it from the library for a while, but never had a chance to crack it open!

    • whatmeread March 10, 2014 / 2:09 pm

      I guess you’ll have to check it back out! I have three right now, so I’d better get reading!

  2. Naomi March 10, 2014 / 2:22 pm

    This sounds so interesting! I love learning about lesser-known people in history – the ones who have been virtually forgotten.

    • whatmeread March 10, 2014 / 2:25 pm

      Yes! I think the link to the Count of Monte Cristo is a bit weak, but the book is very interesting. I think now that they sometimes really push it with the subtitles that they always add onto nonfiction books, trying to find a hook that the general public will relate to.

  3. Carolyn O March 10, 2014 / 3:15 pm

    Fascinating! Putting this on my TR list right now. Thanks for the review!

    • whatmeread March 10, 2014 / 3:32 pm

      You’re welcome! I always like a literary-related biography, even if the relationship is distant.

  4. Alina (literaryvittles) March 10, 2014 / 3:30 pm

    This sounds like a biography I would actually enjoy! Usually I avoid the genre, but this one sounds fascinating!

    • whatmeread March 10, 2014 / 3:33 pm

      I always like a biography that is well written but shows evidence of research instead of a lot of author speculation. This one fits the bill!

  5. Ariel Price March 11, 2014 / 9:41 am

    Wow! This does sound fascinating! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • whatmeread March 11, 2014 / 9:49 am

      You’re welcome! Let me know if you like it.

  6. Cecilia March 11, 2014 / 10:15 am

    How interesting! I also looked up The Orientalist. I love that this writer chooses obscure but fascinating people to research about.

  7. whatmeread March 11, 2014 / 10:17 am

    Yes, I thought The Orientalist was especially interesting, about a Jewish man who pretended to be an Arab and was an expert on the orient in Nazi Germany.

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