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Review: ‘The Black Count’ by Tom Reiss

Review: ‘The Black Count’ by Tom Reiss post image

Title: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Coute of Monte Cristo
Author: Tom Reiss
Genre: Narrative nonfiction
Year: 2012
Publisher: Crown
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: Although the name “Alexandre Dumas” is probably most recognized as the name of the author of such great works as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, the novelist Dumas actually shares the name with his father, General Alex Dumas, a mixed-race military leader in revolutionary France.

Alex — as he preferred to be called — Dumas was born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white Frenchman hiding out in Saint-Domingue. When Alex’s father emerged from his sojourn in the Caribbean he made his way back to France with his mixed race son to reclaim his family’s estate. Alex was raised the son of an aristocrat, and eventually made a name for himself because of his dashing good looks and skill with a sword. Much to his luck, Alex found himself in France during a revolutionary time, one of the earliest civil rights movements, which allowed him to advance through the ranks of the French army until the Black Count commanded more than 50,000 men and became a threat to the great Napoleon.

Dumas’ exploits and travails eventually became the fodder for his son’s most famous novels; Alex Dumas’ exploits with the sword are featured in The Three Musketeers, while his eventual imprisonment and unwavering principals became the inspiration for the enigmatic Edmund Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo. The Black Count is both Alex’s story, as well as a love story from a son to his father and an exploration of early victories for racial equality in a revolutionary time.

There are many, many things to love about The Black Count. Alex Dumas has an amazing story, and author Tom Reiss does wonders bringing it together, combining the exciting stories that the novelist Dumas wrote about his father with military records, letters and other documents to provide an admiring and realistic portrayal of a man that, in many ways, was well outside of his time. I loved reading about Alex’s exploits as a young soldier and his difficulties dealing with the rampantly difficult politics of France during this time period.

The book sometimes feels like it gets a little sidetracked from Alex Dumas, spending long sections on the French Revolution or Italian politics when I really just wanted to hear more about the dashing Black Count. I get why those sections are important — their context is important to the story of how Alex Dumas was able to accomplish all of the things he did — but they’re not as exciting when you’re waiting to find out how a military hero ends up imprisoned like Edmund Dantes. But, I guess that’s a pretty high standard of entertainment to live up to anyway.

That’s really a small criticism, however. On the whole, The Black Count is a great example of the sort of exciting and readable nonfiction that I love and try to recommend.

Other Reviews: Devourer of Books | Entomology of a Bookworm |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

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  • Trisha October 19, 2012, 9:12 am

    I had no idea. Not that that is a surprise since I know so little about authors as it. But Dumas Sr. sounds like a fascinating person, and I definitely want to know more.

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:11 pm

      I had no idea about this story either. I love history that tells a mostly unknown story 🙂

  • Vasilly October 19, 2012, 5:07 pm

    I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this! I had no idea! Now I want to read this. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

  • Lorren October 19, 2012, 7:00 pm

    I also received this book for review but have yet to read it — glad to hear that for the most part it was great!

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:12 pm

      Absolutely. The majority of the book was really enjoyable. I hope you like it!

  • Jenny October 20, 2012, 10:21 am

    I’m well excited about this book. I had no idea there was a Dumas grand-pere who inspired Dumas pere’s awesome genius books, but I’m excited to read about his swashbuckling exploits. Because it lets me say “swashbuckling exploits”.

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:13 pm

      I do love good swashbuckling exploits, especially when performed by a dashing gentleman. It’s a good story.

  • Jennifer October 20, 2012, 9:25 pm

    I’ve been waiting to see what you thought of this one and now it’s firmly on my mental tbr pile. Thanks!!

  • Charlie October 22, 2012, 7:31 am

    I thought similarly, great book though it goes off on a tangent sometimes. Yet the history is so interesting it’s difficult not to like it all the same.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey October 25, 2012, 11:02 pm

    This sounds great! I’ve discovered that I really like historical narrative fiction, so this is definitely going on my reading list 🙂

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey December 20, 2012, 2:09 pm

    I just read this and was kind of surprised you only gave it 4 stars because I loved it. Then after writing my review I read yours, thinking I might have missed something obviously bad about it, but it turns out we both noticed the same thing – there’s a lot of extra historical context! Personally, I really enjoyed the broader commentary on the French Revolution and social issues of the time, although I could definitely see where you would find them distracting. Interesting how our tastes vary 🙂

    Thanks for sharing the recommendation that led me to pick it up!

    • Kim December 30, 2012, 10:17 am

      I don’t think it’s a big difference — to me 4 or 5 stars is almost irrelevant, since both mean I loved a book. I just had a little less patience for the digressions than you, I suppose, but that’s a particular matter of personal taste more than anything. I’m glad you liked it!

      • Katie @ Doing Dewey December 31, 2012, 1:36 pm

        That’s true 🙂 For me, I only give a book 5 stars if I really don’t have anything bad to say about it. But most of my star ratings are pretty close together and between bloggers, it’s hard to even compare!