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

Average Rating 4.5
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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 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 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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