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This is a biography of General Alexandre Dumas, father of the novelist and a man who experienced and achieved a great deal in his amazing life. His son was not yet four when he died in 1806, but obviously hero worshipped him and incorporated many of the tales of his life, told by his mother, into his novels. In fact, his fathers life reads very much like a novel and is an astounding account of a man who was born the son of a slave and lived through a revolution and the rise of Napoleon.

The first part of this book looks at the early life of Alexandre Dumas, who was himself the son of a Marquis, a French nobleman in hiding on the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue, and Marie Cessette Dumas, who was a slave. Saint-Domingue was a place where the sons of impoverished noble familes could strike it rich, as sugar was a scarce and luxurious commodity. The Marquis, known then as Antoine Alexandre de I'Isle, had effectively come 'to sponge' off his younger brother, who had married the daughter of a plantation owner. Eventually he had four children with Marie Cessette Dumas, although when he eventually returned to France he took only his youngest child, Alexandre, with him.

Alexandre must have had a difficult time in Paris. Although 'men of colour' lived a free life in France, he still came up against racism at every turn. Eventually, he set up on his own, taking his mothers name, and joining the army as a dragoon. The author recreates the history of that period so well you almost feel you are living through it. We read of Alexandre's great skills as a swordsman, his incredible strength and agility, his renowned good looks and intelligence. These were abilities he used to climb through the ranks of the army as the French Revolution erupted and the army was reformed. When he was billeted with the Labouret family and fell in love with their young daughter Marie-Louise, his father accepted her lovers proposal, but asked that the wedding be postponed until Alexandre became a sergeant. Within a year he was a general, with ten thousand men under his command...

We read of the Revolution, the Committee of Public Safety and the unleasing of the Terror, when everyone was under suspicion and heads rolled. Also, there is much of his fathers life that Dumas the novelist incorporated into his writing. An example of this was when Alexandre Dumas was imprisoned in the fortress of Taranto, which is obviously the basis of the Count of Monte Cristo. This is only one example, but the author deftly ties together stories, both real and exaggerated, which the author weaved into his novels. Overall, this is a fascinating account of a man and a time, incredibly well written and researched. The author obviously had a great deal of respect for the man he was writing about and this is both history and biography at their best.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 October 2012
Alexandre Dumas had created some of the best loved and flamboyant heroes in literature -Edmond Dantes and d'Artagnan from "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Three Musketeers" respectively. "The Black Count" is the biography of the man who inspired Alexandre Dumas - his father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas adopted "Dumas" from his mother (a black Haitian slave) but preferred to be addressed as "Alex Dumas". He enlisted as a professional soldier in the French army and rose from the lowest rank to become a high-ranking general and Commander of the Second Calvary Division. Alex Dumas was a man of impressive physique. He was six foot one or two inches tall, and full of courage. He once rushed alone against a squad of twenty Austrian soldiers, killing three and wounded eight. His fame in the French campaigns against the Austrians, Belgians, and Italians was legendary. His opponents called him "The Black Devil" and were terrified of him. He was a man of great organizational skills and a source of inspiration to his men. It was not just his bravery and incredible victories that made him a hero to his son. He was also an upright and magnanimous man who protected the weak and the defeated. More importantly, he was a professional soldier who led when he had to lead, and followed when he had to follow. Alex Dumas was thus a completely different man from his erstwhile fellow general - one Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte was short, and his positioning in the battlefield was not the same as Alex's. Bonaparte was vain and ambitious. Bonaparte was cunning and manipulative. Above all, Reiss made clear that Bonaparte was jealous and fearful of the Black Count.

Alex Dumas was only a corporal in 1789 when the Bastille fell in the midst of the French revolution. He was sent together with the dragoons of the New Republic to protect the granaries in the town of Villers-Cotterets. An innkeeper, Claude Labouret, was in charge of the National Guard in the town. There being no barracks, the dragoons were billeted with the townsfolk. Labouret chose Alex. Though Alex impressed him and charmed his daughter Marie-Louise, Labouret would not allow Alex to marry her unless he earned himself a higher rank than that of a corporal. Three years later, Alex returned to Villers-Cotterets as a Lieutenant Colonel in command of the Black Legion and claimed his bride.

Reiss presented a graphic and exciting account of Alex Duma's exploits in Egypt following the often baffling commands of Bonaparte. After Bonaparte abandoned Egypt, and Alex's adventure there ended, he (Alex) set sail on board the "Belle Maltaise", an unseaworthy ship that found its way wretchedly to the port of Taranto where the Italians arrested her and detained Alex and his men. Alex was held captive in the Fortress of Taranto for two years. He was undernourished and suffered severe illness. He suspected the prison doctor of attempting to poison him. The result, though he did not die, left him blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. It took him some time after release to get back to strength and still he rejoined the army. However, he was no longer favoured. Though Bonaparte created the "Legion of Honour", his racist edicts ensured that Alex never received that honour. The memory of Alex Dumas, "The Black Count" lived on through the stories of his son, Alexandre Dumas, who wrote in his memoir, "You see father, I haven't forgotten any of the memories that you told me to keep. From the time I could think, your memory has lived in me like a sacred lamp, illuminating everything and everyone you ever touched, even though death has taken it away."

Endnote: Three generations of Dumases can create confusion with their names. They were all known as Alexandre Dumas. (Alex Dumas ("The Black Count") is Thomas Alexandre Dumas; his son, the author of "The Three Musketeers" is Alexandre Dumas (pere); Alexandre Dumas (fils) is the son of Alexandre Dumas (pere), and is an accomplished author in his own right - his play "The Lady of Camellias" inspired Verdi's opera, "La Traviata".) Even Montblanc was confused when they issued their Writers' series with the Alexandre Dumas pen with the signature of the son (fils) instead of that of the father (pere).
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on 18 June 2013
This is a really eye-opening book about the way in which racism obscures and rewrites history. Who would know that a black man from a slave colony rose to such prominence in revolutionary France. We know about Toussaint L'Ouverture through the writings of CLR James but the story of General Alex Dumas is a revelation. What is more extraordinary is that his son became a famous and much-lauded French man of letters read by every French school child with the sort of reverence we reserve for Shakespeare in England. And yet how many of these schoolchildren know that Alexandre Dumas was a black man let alone that his father was a hero of the revolution! This book should be on the reading list of the French school child along with those classics already in the canon, The Count of Monte Christo and The Three Musketeers.
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on 10 February 2013
It's a big book! I haven't finished reading yet, but am thoroughly enjoying it. I hadn't realised that it is virtually the history of the French Revolution, with appearances by Alex Duval. Previously I wouldn't have considered a book on that subject, but I'm glad I bought it. (It's our book club choice for March.)
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on 17 November 2012
The life and military record of General Alexandre Dumas almost seems like the stuff of legend. His son, Alexandre Dumas (Pere) the writer, used him as the model for some of his most well known characters including Edmond Dantes (the Count of Monte Cristo) and d'Artagnan (the Three Musketeers).

Alexandre Dumas (or Alex Dumas as he signed his name), was born in Saint Domingue to an African Women and a French Marquis and rose very quickly through the ranks solely on his own merit to become a General in the French army. A popular and striking commander who always lead from the front and would typically be found in the thickest and most dangerous of the fighting. Unfortunately like his comrade in arms, teacher and fellow revolutionary, Chevalier de St George, he was to face racism, bigotry and betrayal.

In "The Black Count", Tom Reiss has written a most comprehensive biography of the General and the events which shaped and affected his life. From his early days in Saint Dominque to his rise to prominence during the French Revolution, the author draws on a wealth of information including personal memoirs and letters, the writings of his novelist son, visits to various sites of the campaigns he was involved in and records of his life and militarily service which altogether bring to light this virtual giant (standing at over six foot tall) of his time.

He was to end his days almost forgotten as special laws enacted by his contemporary and one time commander Napoleon Bonaparte, started to affect lives of "People of Colour". The leaders of Saint Dominque were to lead their country to become the independent Republic of Haiti and his support for liberty and equality to the end of his life echoed the very principles which those in his land of birth were fighting for.

I was aware of this man before reading "The Black Count", but Tom Reiss has left the reader with a very detailed account of his life and the world he lived in. This is an excellent book, well written and extensively researched by the author. Recommended reading!
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on 22 January 2013
Fantastic story, lovely book, great condition.
Just when you thought there was nothing more about the Dumas....
this is better than fiction
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on 12 February 2013
A well researched and engagingly written account of a neglected hero .

The father who inspired one of our greatest adventure stories
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on 29 December 2012
It was a gift for my husband and he is really enjoying it! A great rread, he's hardly spoken since he received it!
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on 29 December 2012
My husband loves it - not finished yet but can't put it down. Good excuse for not doing any jobs!
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Brilliant! A hugely enjoyable read.

In a colourful globe-trotting tale historical truth proves to be both the source for and the equal of fiction (as it so often does), as history yields a tale, masterfully told by Reiss, of racial and social mobility, military glory, political skulduggery, romance and much more.

As a lover and avid reader of Napoleonic history - it's such a colourful and eventful period - this was great fun, weaving into a background any enthusiastic reader in the period will be familiar with, a great deal of new and fascinating material.

Reiss tells the story of Alex Dumas, the mixed race (or 'mulatto') child of a French aristocrat and his slave wife. Dumas, father of the famous novelist (whose life his more widely renowned son would recycle in his fiction), rises rapidly through the ranks of meritocratic revolutionary France, eventually rubbing shoulders* with Napoleon in Italy and then Egypt.

I won't spoil it for you by saying any more about the story itself, which is a moving and compelling one. Suffice it to say that, despite frequent digressions into various historical contextualising, Reiss' engaging book reads more like a novel than your average historical biography, and perhaps even many novels! And as a work of history it masterfully weaves together many strands, uniting them all around a very human central thread.

A superb and justly lauded book. Makes me want to read the works of the son (Count of Monte Cristo, etc.), and more by Reiss.

* Well, Dumas was 6'1", and Boney just 5'6"... so perhaps they didn't rub shoulders exactly! In fact much of the story concerns the fallout from Dumas rubbing up Napoleon the wrong way.
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