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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 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 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 January 20, 2014

    Excellent!

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

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    Posted April 5, 2013

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    Posted December 8, 2012

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    Posted July 8, 2013

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    Posted October 29, 2012

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    Posted June 9, 2014

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