Invoke the name Alexandre Dumas, and one might inquire, père or fils? (Father or son?) Alexandre Dumas père was the novelist behind The Three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo and his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, was also a writer and playwright.
There is another Alexandre Dumas, however. One who history has largely forgotten, though his story is truly the stuff of legend.
Forgotten until now.
Tom Reiss has recently published a soaring account of Dumas (the father of Alexandre Dumas père) in what is sure to become a definitive volume.
The Black Count is a tour-de-force, an ambitious and awe-inspiring tale of a man born into slavery who eventually rose to become a four-star general and a hero of the French Revolution.
Dumas’ audacious exploits in battle – including almost single-handedly pushing back the Austrians in the Battle of the Alps as well as commanding more than 50,000 men – would later inspire his son to write his famous books. So would Dumas’ years slowly being poisoned in an Italian prison after being captured; Napoleon ultimately betrayed the bravest of military men by letting him languish there and worse.
Epic biographies aren’t my usual reading fare, but this book may change all that. The Black Count was absolutely riveting, combining the thrills of a great adventure story with the concrete fact and context of the best historical work. I myself was in a battle between reading so quickly because I couldn’t wait to turn the next page and trying to slow down to absorb the enormous amount of information contained within. I literally felt I was learning something new on each page.
From France’s brutal slavery regime in Saint Domingue (now present day Haiti) where Dumas was born up through the French Revolution and Napoleon’s dreams of empire after, Reiss expertly takes us through a complicated, layered history to create a vivid portrait of the late 18th century. From the large scale issues of how Dumas, a mixed-race man, negotiated his life in a society whose rules regarding race were rapidly evolving, down to the smallest of details including why wearing black became fashionable in Paris, Reiss seems to have left no stone unturned.
If this weren’t all meticulously researched fact, it would be hard to believe such tales were true. I found myself gasping at much of what I read!
I am DELIGHTED to be able to offer a giveaway copy of The Black Count (courtesy of Crown Publishers) to one lucky reader so that you, too, may gasp.
Leave a comment below by 1 PM EST Friday, October 5 for your chance to win. I will randomly select a winner by drawing names out of a hat.
If you don’t win the copy, please do yourself a favor and pick up this book anyway. It was engrossing, illuminating, and a tiny bit heartbreaking. It’s always so wonderful when a book can crack open more of the world.
Read an excerpt from The Black Count here.
UPDATE! The name has been picked from the hat! Congratulations, William Sandles! Thank you to everyone who entered.