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The Black Count
Cover of The Black Count
The Black Count
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Pulitzer Prize for Biography)
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WINNER OF THE 2013 PULITZER PRIZE FOR BIOGRAPHYGeneral Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiar—because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his...
WINNER OF THE 2013 PULITZER PRIZE FOR BIOGRAPHYGeneral Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiar—because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his...
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  • WINNER OF THE 2013 PULITZER PRIZE FOR BIOGRAPHY

    General Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiarbecause his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

    But, hidden behind General Dumas's swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slavewho rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas made his way to Paris, where he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolutionuntil he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

    The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial...

 

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Excerpts-

  • Chapter One

    the sugar factory

    Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie--father of the future Alex Dumas--was born on February 26, 1714, in the Norman province of Caux, a region of rolling dairy farms that hung above great chalk cliffs on the northwest coast of France. A scrawled scrap of paper from the time states that he was baptized "without ceremony, at home, because of the peril of death," suggesting he was too sickly to risk bringing in to the local church. He was the firstborn son of an old family that possessed a castle, a scarcity of cash, and an abundance of conniving members, though Antoine would one day outdo them all.

    The boy survived, but the following year his sovereign, King Louis XIV, the Sun King, died after seventy-two years on the throne. As he lay dying, the old king counseled his heir, his five-year-old great-grandson: "I loved war too much, do not imitate me in this, nor in my excessive spending habits." The five-year-old presumably nodded earnestly. His reign, as Louis XV, would be marked by a cycle of spending and wars so extravagantly wasteful and unproductive that they would bring shame not only on his person but on the institution of the French monarchy itself.

    But the profligate, war-driven habits of its kings could not hold France back. In fact the "Great Nation" was about to unleash the age of the philosophes, the Enlightenment, and all that would follow from it. Frenchmen were about to shake the world into the modern age. Before they could do that, they would need money. Big money.

    Big money was not to be found in Normandy, and certainly not around the Pailleterie château. The family's coat of arms--three golden eagles holding a golden ring on an azure background--looked impressive but meant little. The Davy de la Pailleteries were provincial aristocrats from a region more abounding in old glories than in current accounts. Their fortune was not enough to sustain grandeur without work--or not for more than one generation.

    Still, a title was a title, and as the oldest son, Antoine would eventually claim the title of "marquis" and the ancestral estate of Bielleville that went with it. Next in succession after Antoine were his two younger brothers--Charles Anne Edouard (Charles), born in 1716, and Louis François Thérèse (Louis), born in 1718.

    Faced with their limited prospects in Normandy, all three Pailleterie brothers sought their fortunes in the army, which then accepted nobles as young as twelve into its commissioned ranks. Antoine received a commission in the Corps Royal de l'Artillerie, an up-and-coming branch of the service, as a second lieutenant at sixteen. His brothers soon followed him as teenage junior officers. The Pailleterie brothers were kept busy by His Majesty's plunge, in 1734, into the War of the Polish Succession, one of a series of dynastic conflicts that regularly provided excuses for the gory quaintness of eighteenth-century European combat. The big-power rivals behind this little war were the traditional competitors for European land domination, the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs, France and Austria. (England would soon play a bigger role, especially on the high seas and in the New World, but that was still one or two wars in the future.)

    In addition to his commission in the artillery, Antoine served at the front as gentleman in the entourage of the Prince de Conti, the king's dashing, fabulously rich cousin. Antoine saw his main action at the Siege of Philipsburg, in 1734--later written into the military annals by Karl von Clausewitz, in On War, as the "perfect example of how not to site a fortress. Its location was that of an idiot standing with his nose against...

About the Author-

  • TOM REISS is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Black Count and the author of the celebrated international bestseller The Orientalist. His biographical pieces have appeared The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications. He makes his home in New York City.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 25, 2012
    Alex Dumas, an extraordinary man whose sensational life had been largely lost to history solely because of his race, takes the spotlight in this dynamic tale. Thanks to Reiss’s excellent research, combined with the passionate memorial his son, Alexandre Dumas, consistently built in his own novels and memoir, Dumas’s life has been brought back to light. Father to the well-known novelist and clear inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as the adventurous spirit of The Three Musketeers and other stories, Dumas (1762–1806) rose through the ranks of the French army from a lowly private in the dragoons to become a respected general who marched into Egypt at Napoleon’s side. (The rivalry and juxtaposition between these two leaders proves fascinating.) Born in what is now Haiti to a French nobleman father and a slave mother, the biracial Dumas chanced to come of age during the French Revolution, a brief period of equality in the French empire; he was thus granted numerous opportunities that the son of a slave 20 years before him (or even 20 years later) would not have enjoyed. Reiss capitalizes on his subject’s charged personality as well as the revolutionary times in which he lived to create an exciting narrative. Agent: Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit.

  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2012
    A compelling new work by literary detective Reiss (The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, 2005) tracks the wildly improbable career of Alexandre Dumas' mixed-race father. Using records from Gen. Dumas' final residence and the military archives at the Chateau de Vincennes, the author provides a vivid sense of who Dumas was and how he attained such heights and fell so low after the French Revolution, being nearly forgotten by the time of his death in 1806. The simple answer seems to be racism. Born to an aristocratic French father and a slave mother in Saint-Domingue, Dumas became a general in the French Revolution and served under Napoleon, by turns lauded as a hero and vilified as a black insurgent. Taken prisoner on the way back from Egypt, his health was ruined after two years' imprisonment in Italy. His novelist son paid homage to his father's legendary stature, manliness, athletic prowess and bravery in his best-known protagonists--e.g., Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo and the swashbuckling D'Artagnon in The Three Musketeers. The general's own father pawned the boy and took him to Paris to make a gentleman of him. Enlisting as a private in the Queen's Dragoons at age 24, he changed his name to Dumas, his slave mother's maiden name. Thanks to the republican spirit of the period and to his own dazzling exploits, he was handily promoted, yet as swiftly demoted by Napoleon, who later passed harsh racial laws. He was never provided the military pension allowed him, and his widow and children sank into hardship; Dumas the novelist was excoriated 40 years later for his black ancestry. Reiss eloquently argues the general's case. A rarefied, intimate literary study delineating a roiling revolutionary era.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2012

    Author of the best-selling The Orientalist, which unfolded the complicated life story of a Caucasus-born Jew who declared himself a Muslim prince, Reiss seems like the right guy to chronicle slave-turned-general Alexandre Dumas. He'd be unknown today had the son who shares his name not used his adventures as the basis for numerous enduring novels.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    September 1, 2012
    The inspiration for some of the great adventure tales of Alexandre Dumas has long been a subject of curiosity and debate. According to Reiss, the inspiration for the great novel of intrigue, betrayal, and revenge, The Count of Monte Cristo, was Dumas' own father, General Alexandre Alex Dumas. In this often thrilling and often sad chronicle, Reiss makes clear that Alex lived a life as full of adventure, triumph, and tragic loss as any of his son's literary creations. He was born in Haiti, the child of an enslaved mother and an erratic French aristocrat who briefly sold his son into slavery. Despite the obvious and immense political and racial obstacles in his path, Alex found his way to Paris, became a skilled swordsman, and rose rapidly in the reorganized army of the French Republic, where he served admirably during Napoleon's invasions of Egypt. Unfortunately, like his literary counterpart, Edmond Dantes, Alex incurred the hostility of powerful people, leading to his fall from grace and eventual impoverishment. This is an absorbing biography that should redeem its subject from undeserved obscurity.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

  • Christian Science Monitor "A remarkable and almost compulsively researched account...The author spent a decade on the case, and it shows."
  • New York Times Book Review "Fascinating...a richly imaginative biography."
  • National Public Radio "It would take an incredibly fertile mind to invent a character as compelling, exciting and unlikely as Gen. Alexandre (Alex) Dumas [hence] you might forget, while reading, that The Black Count is a work of nonfiction; author Tom Reiss writes with such narrative urgency and vivid description, you'd think you were reading a novel...The Black Count reminds us of how essential stories, whether true or invented, can be."
  • Washington Post "Reiss details the criminal forgetting of Alex Dumas...This remarkable book stands as his monument."
  • Newsweek/The Daily Beast "Superb... as improbable and exciting as [Dumas's] best books... but there is much more to this book than that."
  • Essence "Lush prose and insightful details make The Black Count one of the best biographies of 2012...a tale that is as easily engrossing as one of Dumas' page-turning and timeless works."
  • Boston Globe "Impressively thorough...Reiss moves the story on at an entertaining pace...fascinating."--Wall Street Journal "To tell this tale, Reiss must cover the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon toward Empire; he does all that with remarkable verve."
  • The Seattle Times "Fascinating [and] swashbuckling...meticulously evokes the spirit of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France...Dumas comes across as something of a superhero...a monument to the lives of both Dumas and his adoring [novelist] son."
  • The Daily Mail (U.K.) "A piece of detective work by a prize-winning author...brilliantly researched."
  • Tucson Citizen "Sometimes real life does, indeed, trump even the wildest of fiction...With a narrative that is engaging and entertaining, Reiss sets the literary table for one of the most satisfying adventure stories of the autumn. Richly detailed, meticulously researched and beautifully written, this is the unlikely true story of the man behind one of the greatest books in literature."
  • The Herald (U.K.) "Triumphant...Reiss directs a full-scale production that jangles with drawn sabers, trembles with dashing deeds and resonates with the love of a son for a remarkable father."
  • The Literary Review "A story that has everything...The Black Count has its own moving narrative thread, made compelling by Reiss's impassioned absorption with the general's fate."
  • Bookpage "A thoroughly researched, lively piece of nonfiction that will be savored by fans of Alexandre Dumas. But The Black Count needs no partner: It is fascinating enough to stand on its own."
  • Kirkus Reviews "A compelling new work by literary detective Reiss, author of The Orientalist, tracks the wildly improbable career of [Count of Monte Cristo author] Alexandre Dumas' mixed-race father...Reiss eloquently argues the General's case."
  • Publishers Weekly "Alex Dumas, an extraordinary man whose sensational life had been largely lost to history solely because of his race, takes the spotlight in this dynamic tale...Reiss capitalizes on his subject's charged personality as well as the revolutionary times in which he lived to create an exciting narrative."
  • Booklist "Thrilling...Reiss makes clear that Alex lived a life as full of adventure, triumph, and tragic loss as any of his son's literary creations...This absorbing biography should redeem its subject from obscurity."
  • The New York Times "A wondrous tale, beautifully told... mesmerizing, poignant and almost incredible."
  • Entertainment Weekly "Spellbinding history... part detective yarn, part author biography, part travel saga... completely fascinating." The Dallas Morning News "Thrilling, novelistic and rich with the personal and political madness of early twentieth-century Europe."
  • The Los Angeles Times "An elaborate wonde

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The Black Count
The Black Count
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Pulitzer Prize for Biography)
Tom Reiss
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Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Pulitzer Prize for Biography)
Tom Reiss
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