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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black CountWinner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography 2013.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo is a 2012 biography of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas written by Tom Reiss. The book presents the life and career of Dumas as a soldier and officer during the French Revolution, as well as his military service in Italy during the French Revolutionary Wars and later in Egypt under Napoleon. Reiss offers insight into slavery and the life of a man of mixed race during the French Colonial Empire. He also reveals how Dumas’s son – author Alexandre Dumas – viewed his father, who served as the inspiration for some of his novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The Black Count has received honors and awards throughout the world. In November 2012 the book was chosen as the BBC “Book of the Week” and broadcast as a five-part radio series presented on BBC4. The New York Times named it one of the 100 most notable books of 2012, while TIME included it in their list of Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2012, and NPR listed it as one of the Best 5 Biographies of 2012. Amazon.com chose it as one of the “10 Best Books of 2012” in the Biographies and Memoirs category. In December 2012, it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Literary Work, Biography/Autobiography”. On April 15, 2013, The Black Count was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. The book also won the 2013 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. In 2013, it was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award (Biography), the Plutarch Award for Best Biography,[25] and shortlisted for the American Library in Paris Book Award. As of 2014, the book is being adapted into a film.

In preparation for the writing and publication of The Black Count, Reiss undertook a comprehensive study of colonial Haiti, Revolutionary France, medieval Egypt, and political and social unrest in Italy. He also visited the dungeon in Taranto, where Dumas was held from 1799 through 1801 by allies of King Ferdinand IV of Naples during his war with France. Reiss spent two years in search of a publicly commissioned statue of Dumas that was erected in 1913 at the Place Malesherbes (now known as the Place du Général-Catroux) in Paris. While the statue had been displayed for over 30 years, alongside statues of his son and grandson, research revealed that it was melted down by German military forces during World War II.

Reiss’ additional research included visiting the Musée Alexandre Dumas in Villers-Cotterêts, France, which is devoted to the archives and conservation of the works of Dumas’s son, the novelist. Reiss learned of the possible existence of a long-forgotten cache of materials and documents, but the librarian unexpectedly died without recording the combination to the safe. Reiss persuaded a town official to “blow open” the safe, revealing a collection of records that proved valuable to presenting the life and work of Dumas.

On September 15, 2012, just prior to publication, Reiss was interviewed by NPR staff member Scott Simon. Simon asked Reiss why, prior to this biography, there had been little mention of Dumas’s various heroic military exploits both during the French Revolution and afterwards throughout western Europe. Reiss responded with a brief overview of Napoleon’s relationship with Dumas, who came to prominence during a time in history when his race was considered by the French as exotic and desirable. Dumas was seen as a physically contrasting presence to Napoleon, which seemingly threatened the leader. Reiss remarked that Napoleon took umbrage to Dumas, who stood over six feet tall and was “incredibly dashing and physically brilliant”. Napoleon also took offense when Dumas publicly opposed his military expedition during a 1798 failed French attempt to conquer Egypt and the Levant, in which Dumas commanded the French cavalry forces. Napoleon never forgave him for his public defiance, and punished him afterwards.

Reviews: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Three Musketeers! The Count of Monte Cristo! The stories of course are fiction. But here a prize-winning author shows us that the inspiration for the swashbuckling stories was, in fact, Dumas’s own father, Alex – the son of a marquis and an [enslaved] black… He achieved a giddy ascent from private in the Dragoons to the rank of general; an outsider who had grown up among slaves, he was all for Liberty and Equality. Alex Dumas was the stuff of legend. -Daily Mail

So how did such this extraordinary man get erased by history? Why are there no statues of ‘Monsieur Humanity’ as his troops called him? The Black Count uncovers what happened and the role Napoleon played in Dumas’s downfall. By walking the same ground as Dumas – from Haiti to the Pyramids, Paris to the prison cell at Taranto – Reiss, like the novelist before him, triumphantly resurrects this forgotten hero. Entrances from first to last. Dumas the novelist would be proud. -Independent


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