Book Review: The Black Count by Tom Reiss (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

Three Stars out of Five

An entertaining biography of the father of the famous author Alexandre Dumas. The elder Dumas, also named Alexandre, was by Reiss’s reckoning the model for the Count of Monte Cristo and other action heroes of the son’s novels.

In addition to bring attention to the life and contributions of the elder Dumas, this book provides insight into the workings of the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Most striking is that Dumas, the son of a white French Marquis and his black Saint-Dominque (now Haiti) slave, was raised in France by his father with all the benefits of an acknowledged, if illegitimate, noble son (the basis for the title of “count”). Dumas was a thorough-going son of the Revolution, which was an early leader in equality and black emancipation. Tall, handsome and athletic, Dumas rose through the ranks to the rank of général d’armée, often leading his cavalry troops into the thick of combat. He was known and lauded by almost everyone, except a certain short, ambitious Corsican. As the political ideals of the Revolution unwound in the Reign of Terror then the tyranny of Bonaparte, France’s advances in equality were just as quickly withdrawn from the black and mixed-race citizens and subjects. Dumas died tragically just as everything he loved and fought for unraveled.

Well researched and presented, though the colloquial language makes the reader suspect it was first written in French and then translated into English by a college student. (That isn’t so, it just reads as if it were.)

Still, good history, good biography, good social commentary.