Sharon's Reviews > The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count by Tom Reiss
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Aug 26, 12

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography, all-things-france
Read from August 01 to 26, 2012

Anyone who wonders where Alexandre Dumas (pere) got the inspiration for such classic tales as "The Three Musketeers" and (most particularly) "The Count of Monte Cristo" need look no further than this book. The concepts were drawn from the real-life exploits of Dumas' father, Thomas-Alexandre Antoine Davy, Marquis de la Pailleterie: the man who called himself simply Alex Dumas.

The son of a slave and a fugitive nobleman, Dumas started out life on the island of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) before working his way across to France to seek out his father and his fortune. He entered France during a fortuitous time for people of color, for the French Republic had done away with slavery and people of color had the same rights as all other citizens. Dumas made a name for himself in the military and eventually became General of the Armies ... before being removed from command by his one-time subordinate, one Napoleon Bonaparte, who eventually undid a great deal of the equality-related work of the Republicans.

This is not a pretty time in France, of course, with the Reign of Terror and its aftermath happening. Yet, Alex Dumas does well for himself during a time when the deck should have been stacked against him as a nobleman, despite his Republican sensibilities.

The book details Dumas' time in the French Revolution, Franco-Italian and Mameluke wars; it is during his return from the latter that he is captured and imprisoned for two years without anyone knowing where he has gone (the inspiration for "The Count of Monte Cristo"). His soldierly exploits, skills as a fencer and horseman, and his overall persona are documented with contemporary letters, among other sources.

This book is impeccably researched (the notes and biography comprise more than 100 pages), and about as far from a dry military history tome as one might imagine. Highly recommended for those interested in France, military history, Napoleon's conquests and, yes, the novels of Alexandre Dumas (pere).

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
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message 1: by C.S. (new) - added it

C.S. You inspired me to reread The Count of Monte Cristo. I've been planning to go back to old classics that I read years ago, and this is a good start. It's a perfect example of how thoroughly novelistic styles have changed. I can't imagine any young modern reader putting up with the meandering subplots, the flowery style, and the historical details. Such novels were written for people of leisure and education.

I also put The Black Count on my TBR list. Thanks.


Sharon You're most welcome. I hope my review is helpful to you; the book was fascinating. I am glad to see that you are going back to classics; I'm doing much the same. Not only is it interesting to see how writing styles have changed, but it also serves to show how universal human experience really is. Thanks so much for your comment!


message 3: by C.S. (new) - added it

C.S. I grew up on the classics, some of which weren't classics yet when I discover them. (Tells you that I'm not exactly a young chick.) Some don't hold up, but others are worth returning to every few years. I read War and Peace every so often, and it's still an amazing book. Dostoevski's House of the Dead is next on my list for a reread. My reaction to it will probably be very different from the one I had as an adolescent.


Sharon C.S. wrote: "My reaction to it will probably be very different from the one I had as an adolescent. "

I'm no young chick anymore myself. :-) It is interesting to re-read some of the books we had at school or college, with much less life experience under our belt, and see what we think about them now. For example, I liked Siddhartha when I read it for honors English; I found it *profound* upon re-reading a few years ago.


message 5: by C.S. (new) - added it

C.S. We bring a whole set of life experiences to what we reread, not the least of which (for some of us, anyway) is that we read more critically for writing craft as well as meaning. As an adolescent, I was enthralled by The Count, but this time around, I was constantly distracted by the meandering and overwritten plot. I reread one of Sinclair Lewis's classic novels a couple of years ago and was shocked at how badly written it was. Which makes me think that sensational ephemera like 50 Shades isn't exactly a new thing in the world.


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