- The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
In this sweeping biography of the life of General Alexandre Dumas, Tom Reiss culls together all and sundry eighteenth-century French history to give us a fuller picture of the father of the great nineteenth-century French writer Alexandre Dumas, père. We learn that Dumas’s father, who died when the writer was four years old, was the inspiration for the heroic feats of the Count of Monte Cristo, that Napoleon was as oily with General Dumas, who managed to survive the precariousness and random violence, the atmosphere of paranoia and accusations of traitor to the revolution during Robespierre’s Terror, as he had been on the question of slavery after the French Revolution. Napoleon appeared to make it his life’s mission to punish and starve the general after the Lilliputian general’s failed campaign in Egypt, going so far as to deny him his soldier’s pension, thus leaving Dumas and his mother in dire financial straits.
There is little in the general’s writing from which to glean the entire scope of his life, as we hear very little from the general himself, but Reiss does a remarkable job with the narrative nonetheless. History comes alive on the page, as we can track the general’s life from his beginnings in Saint Domingue to his years in France as debonair playboy and swordsman to his military career and death, which his son, Dumas père, details in anguished tones in his autobiographical writing.