Check It Out: The Black Count

Aug 12, 2016

Today I am recommending the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning biography The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss.

The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, The Corsican Brothers. These are stories that have lived for over 150 years. Stories of swords, honor, villains you love to hate, and heroes of the highest order. Nothing can live up to the exciting, over-the-top adventures Alexandre Dumas concocted, except maybe the real life exploits of his father, Thomas Alexandre Dumas. The inspiration and pattern of some of literatures greatest protagonists.
 

Thomas Dumas was the son of a French nobleman and a slave, raised on Sainte-Domingue (now Haiti). He was brought to France by his father where he received a gentleman's education in the classics and the arts of combat which would serve him well in later years. The subsequent twists and turns of young Dumas' career read like something right out of one of his son’s most beloved stories.

Dumas' rise could only have happened at that exact moment in French history. During the reign of the Bourbons, Enlightenment thinkers had already begun pressing for the rights of man and the emancipation of slaves living in France, but it was only for a brief time following the Revolution that a true era of emancipation ensued in which many men of mixed race, including Dumas, were able to live free lives and reach positions of great prominence. However, Napoleon's ascent put an end to that chapter in French history and denied Dumas the happily ever after ending the son would give to the heroes of his books.

The author spent a good portion of the book setting the historical groundwork needed to properly introduce Dumas, allowing the reader to receive a crash course in all the events leading to the French Revolution.  It takes a while before Alex Dumas begins to emerge in the narrative and then it is wonderful to hear the authentic voice of the man himself, speaking clearly and with extraordinary and somewhat reckless courage, in his dispatches and letters home to his beloved wife. Dumas is totally incorruptible, an enlightened leader and administrator with a great passion for detail and dedication to ideals of the Revolution.

Reiss' sweeping and meticulously researched history also works to shed light on neglected chapters in French history: some shocking, many utterly fascinating, and just a few--glorious. He does not flinch at depicting the charnel house that France created in her Caribbean sugar-growing colonies, the brutal chaos of the Revolution, or the bloodbath of French history known as the Terror.

Check out this biography about life, death, honor, and courage as well as other exciting read-a-likes at the Sioux City Public Library.    

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Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.