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

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

31 out of 37 people found this review helpful.

The Power of Choice and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

There is something profoundly important in Tom Reiss' The Black Count" that relates to how we define our personal stories and the stories of our collective consciousness. The Black Count details the life of Alex Dumas, father of Alexandre Dumas the author of the Count o...
There is something profoundly important in Tom Reiss' The Black Count" that relates to how we define our personal stories and the stories of our collective consciousness. The Black Count details the life of Alex Dumas, father of Alexandre Dumas the author of the Count of Monte Cristo. Born to a titled white father and slave mother, Dumas was both sold into and bought out of slavery by his father. When Dumas joined the military, he eschewed the higher rank that was his birthright and entered as a common soldier, taking on his slave mother's name. He quickly earned his way up the ranks. What we can all learn from his experience is that he did not hold on to the wound of his slave experience: He allowed his personal history to define his values, but chose not to allow it to define him as a man. Reiss details the birth of race-based slavery as a relatively new phenomenon when viewed within the annals of all of human history, showing that it was based out of commercial expediency rather than racial superiority. He even gives mention to the fact that the chain of ownership began with black Africans, a fact almost always left out of the slavery discussion. I only mention this because this is a wound that needs closing. Is there racism? Most definitely. Should we stand up against it? Absolutely. But that does not mean people need to define themselves by it. Doing so creates a kind of self-imposed slavery, limiting what a person believes is possible for him/herself. With a good three quarters of black children in America living without a present father figure, Alex Dumas serves as a role model of what kind of person they can be and how powerful the concept of choice is in what they will believe about themselves.

The other thing that Reiss does in The Black Count is to make intricate connections between historical fact and everyday life. There is a tendency these days to reduce complex situations into simplistic rhetoric. When terms like "collateral damage" replace the concept of human tragedy, campaigns are built on "don't you love America," and illegal war are begun over "bringing the evil-doers to justice," we desperately need a different way to understand the world we live in. Instead of interspersing dry historical fact within the Dumas story and expecting the reader to make his/her own connections, Reiss explains the context and consequences with the deftness of a great novelist. The result is that the reader sees the complexities of human history at every level and understands that life cannot be reduced to black and white, dichotomous thinking. Our society needs a paradigm shift into this more "wholistic" way of thinking, where we understand that all our choices have multiple, interconnected consequences. The Black Count is more than just history, it reflects a lesson back to us about our own personal stories and public dialogue.

posted by AliceLiu-MissingChunk on September 24, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

Solid, slightly sensationalized

This is a fairly well written book. The subject as largely unknown and the author clearly conducted as much research as was possible. I would have to surmise that the theme is the influence of Dumas, the general on Dumas, the author. Fans of the novelist will likely enj...
This is a fairly well written book. The subject as largely unknown and the author clearly conducted as much research as was possible. I would have to surmise that the theme is the influence of Dumas, the general on Dumas, the author. Fans of the novelist will likely enjoy this read. I am more of a history fan, so I felt shorted at times. I would liked to have gotten more information about the battles. But overall this was a satisfying purchase.

posted by DC_ReaderSC on January 4, 2013

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  • Posted September 24, 2012

    The Power of Choice and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

    There is something profoundly important in Tom Reiss' The Black Count" that relates to how we define our personal stories and the stories of our collective consciousness. The Black Count details the life of Alex Dumas, father of Alexandre Dumas the author of the Count of Monte Cristo. Born to a titled white father and slave mother, Dumas was both sold into and bought out of slavery by his father. When Dumas joined the military, he eschewed the higher rank that was his birthright and entered as a common soldier, taking on his slave mother's name. He quickly earned his way up the ranks. What we can all learn from his experience is that he did not hold on to the wound of his slave experience: He allowed his personal history to define his values, but chose not to allow it to define him as a man. Reiss details the birth of race-based slavery as a relatively new phenomenon when viewed within the annals of all of human history, showing that it was based out of commercial expediency rather than racial superiority. He even gives mention to the fact that the chain of ownership began with black Africans, a fact almost always left out of the slavery discussion. I only mention this because this is a wound that needs closing. Is there racism? Most definitely. Should we stand up against it? Absolutely. But that does not mean people need to define themselves by it. Doing so creates a kind of self-imposed slavery, limiting what a person believes is possible for him/herself. With a good three quarters of black children in America living without a present father figure, Alex Dumas serves as a role model of what kind of person they can be and how powerful the concept of choice is in what they will believe about themselves.

    The other thing that Reiss does in The Black Count is to make intricate connections between historical fact and everyday life. There is a tendency these days to reduce complex situations into simplistic rhetoric. When terms like "collateral damage" replace the concept of human tragedy, campaigns are built on "don't you love America," and illegal war are begun over "bringing the evil-doers to justice," we desperately need a different way to understand the world we live in. Instead of interspersing dry historical fact within the Dumas story and expecting the reader to make his/her own connections, Reiss explains the context and consequences with the deftness of a great novelist. The result is that the reader sees the complexities of human history at every level and understands that life cannot be reduced to black and white, dichotomous thinking. Our society needs a paradigm shift into this more "wholistic" way of thinking, where we understand that all our choices have multiple, interconnected consequences. The Black Count is more than just history, it reflects a lesson back to us about our own personal stories and public dialogue.

    31 out of 37 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2012

    This needs to be widely read!!

    Wow. This is an amazing story about a man we SHOULD already know. I am so grateful that the author told this story so that Gen Dumas can be remembered. The story is very personally inspiring, but also a tale of revolution gone bad. If you like Mccullough or Ambrose and their style of vivid historical storytelling, then you will like this book.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2012

    Very Detailed History

    Much like "The Orientalist, Tom Reiss was able to deliver an interesting, detailed and ultimately surprising story about a character in history that I'm ashamed to admit didn't even know was a true historical character. Also much like "The Orientalist", there is a lot of history provided for the reader to get through. I admit, there were a few times that I felt my eyes glazing over, where I had to re-read a passage that my mind wanted to skip over, but it definitely was worth it. I can appreciate the amount of time, dedication, travel and research that went into the reconstruction of General Dumas' life. It clearly was a labor of love for Mr. Reiss, and it turned out beautifully. I learned a lot throughout the story of the two Dumas men, and I am thankful for that. But part of me also wonders if maybe a bit of the history could have been condensed - or left out completely - to make the story flow a little better. I did feel it got bogged down at times, especially when the story branched out from Dumas to the plight of a certain country. Yes, the history was important, but was it so important that it required so much detail? The best pieces of this story, for me, were the quotes (from letters and other writings) of both Dumas men, as well as Mr. Reiss' personal asides about his journey to piece this all together. I loved how much the son adored the father, and loved seeing how the father doted on the son. I appreciated Mr. Reiss pointing out the parallels between General Dumas' life and some of Alexandre Dumas' characters (for the slow ones like me). Before this book, my knowledge and interest in Napoleon were passing, at best. I know what I remember from school and what I've learned from various History Channel shows, but never really stopped to think about the person and/or ruler he was. After this book, though, my interest is piqued. The interactions between Napoleon and Dumas, as described in this book, add a whole new layer to the term "Napoleon Complex" in my mind.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2013

    Solid, slightly sensationalized

    This is a fairly well written book. The subject as largely unknown and the author clearly conducted as much research as was possible. I would have to surmise that the theme is the influence of Dumas, the general on Dumas, the author. Fans of the novelist will likely enjoy this read. I am more of a history fan, so I felt shorted at times. I would liked to have gotten more information about the battles. But overall this was a satisfying purchase.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 9, 2013

    I hate FINISHING Biographies. It's a moment of depression. The l

    I hate FINISHING Biographies. It's a moment of depression.
    The life of General Dumas is fascinating, exciting, and tragic. A life not to be missed. Tom Reiss does a wonderful job of expressing this man's life and the world he lived in while frequently making subtle reminders to the reader that he's working off of actual documents, reinforcing the author's credibility. Very skillful rendering of a fascinating life...
    .. just, as always with biographies of historical figures, don't hold your breath for a happy flowery ending.
    Thank you Mr. Reiss.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2013

    I bought this after hearing an author's interview on Fresh Air,

    I bought this after hearing an author's interview on Fresh Air, which has provided many good reads. I am not a bio buff, but I really enjoyed this book. The subject was indeed heroic and overcame odds that would be considered impossible today. This book had a good review of the first western nation to establish abolition of slavery. It has also given me a broader view of the French revolution than I previously had. If you are interested in war history, Europe post enlightenment, France, and it's revolution, colonialism, Napoleon, or any of the Dumas family I recommend you read this one.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    I loved this book. The writing style was something different fro

    I loved this book. The writing style was something different from other authors of biographies I have read, but I really enjoyed it. It felt as if the author was sitting in my living room telling me this great story.
    If you are expecting to read detail after detail of Dumas's life, you won't get it. The author gives you the "big picture", the moment in history when this great General lived, then he places him in that moment so you can really understand what his life, his thought were. We finished the book really knowing this man and also understanding his background and the years he lived in.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    This well written book provides a well written connection betwee

    This well written book provides a well written connection between the novels read in literature classes and the history that shaped them (which tends to only be read about in history classes).

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Awesome

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    3 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    Eye opening

    It reminded me tht no matter how much we think we know of the past we'll never really know the full story about these peoples lives.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2013

    Highly Recommend

    Excellent biography about an important but forgotten general.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2013

    Extremely well done. Reiss has performed remarkable research an

    Extremely well done. Reiss has performed remarkable research and brings Dumas to life. I really enjoy such a book that reveals a little known but important historical character.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2013

    A definite good read!

    One would be amazed at the writings surrounding the three Dumas and their parts played in history. I didn't know that Alexandre Dumas was such a brave and gallant count and how he rose to the ranks and how the rest of his life progressed. Napoleon played a big part in this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Not what I expected.

    Not what I expected. Tedious. Cover photo led me to believe it would be an action novel. Didn't finish. Put it on the shelf.

    1 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Excellent!

    The story of Alexander Dumas's father. Beautifully and sensitively written. Loved it.

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  • Posted December 13, 2013

    Very interesting and educational at the same time!

    I am about halfway thru the book. I find it very interesting and educational and easy to read; It is not a textbook, but it is written in a modern way like a story. If you like history and this starts in the mid-1700's and later, it covers French history as well as touching on North America and the Caribbean during that period. Great for European history buffs!

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  • Posted October 25, 2013

    Recommend to French History buffs and others

    The biography of Alexander Dumas, pere (which means "the father.") Extraordinary depiction of the author's father, a black Count with royal lineage and title born of a black slave in what is now Haiti. The book chronicles his very successful military career in France, his disdain and mistreatment by Napoleon, and his life as a Black person during the time of the French Revolution. For French history buffs, this is a must read. Well documented from archives, letters found during the author's research. BTW- Alexander Dumas, pere is the Count of Monte Cristo. Enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    pretentious

    pretentious

    0 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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