The Black Count:
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
by Tom Reiss
The Crown Publishing Group
Book Review by Kam Williams
“The original Alexandre Dumas was born in 1762… in the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue. [His] life is so extraordinary on so many levels that it’s easy to forget that it was led by a black man, in a world of whites, at the end of the 18th Century. His mother… was a slave, and he himself was sold into bondage… by his own father, an aristocrat…
[As] the son of a marquis and a slave, [he] had the unique perspective of being from the highest and lowest ranks of society at once… [He] made it to France and… on the eve of the French Revolution… began a meteoric rise through the ranks of the new revolutionary army.
[His] story brilliantly illuminates the first true age of emancipation: a single decade during which the French Revolution not only sought to end slavery and discrimination based on skin color but also broke down the ghetto walls and offered Jews full civil and political rights.”
-- Excerpted from the Prologue (pgs. 7-12)
When anyone mentions Alexandre Dumas, they’re ordinarily talking about the author of such memorable novels as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. What almost nobody knows is that the great writer shared his name with a father who was perhaps more famous in his day, a decorated military hero who led an army of over 50,000 soldiers during the French Revolution.
Thus, it is no surprise that the exploits of the elder Dumas might serve as the inspiration for much of his son’s work, especially the aforementioned classics, as well as the lesser-known Georges. That thinly-veiled biography of his dad revolves around a young man of mixed race from a French sugar colony who makes his way to Paris where he becomes a celebrated swordsman.
Unfortunately, the real-life Alex, Sr. fell from grace and became lost in obscurity because of ideological differences with a fellow general, Napoleon Bonaparte. For, Dumas had considered theirs a people’s struggle for worldwide liberation, while his power-hungry comrade was ostensibly more interested in world domination.
In addition, the statuesque Alexandre was blessed with height and a magnificent physique that left the diminutive Napoleon feeling more than a little threatened. This eventuated in the latter’s having his competitor ignominiously tossed into a dungeon, ala the protagonist of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Napoleon also made sure to have Dumas erased from the history books, a disservice belatedly undone thanks to the efforts of Tom Reiss, author of The Black Count. Reiss devoted a half-dozen years to painstaking research to the project, unearthing a cornucopia of astonishing information from dusty archives en route to penning a revealing and compelling page-turner about an unsung icon that time somehow forgot.
Vive la Dumas!