The Black Count: Glory, revolution, betrayal and the real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
|The Black Count: Glory, revolution, betrayal and the real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Fascinating tale of an almost-forgotten hero. Huge recommendation.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: May 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography 2013
While the novels of Alexandre Dumas, like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, weren't true, they were based on a real hero - Dumas's own father. Born the son of a slave and a French nobleman, General Alexandre Dumas would go on to rise to fame and fortune during the French Revolution, only to face racism, betrayal, and a rivalry with Napoleon Bonaparte which would eventually lead to the virtual disappearance from history of this incredible figure.
I was hooked on this from the moment when author Tom Reiss, on finding out the only librarian who had the combination to a safe containing vital documents had inconveniently passed away, talked a small-town official into simply blowing the safe open. The life of his subject is even more exciting, including wars, imprisonment, fighting against racism and a meteoric, and an in many ways unprecedented rise through the ranks of the French army. Reiss is clearly fascinated by his subject, and who can blame him? While lots of readers will no doubt be drawn to the book because they're familiar with the novelist, and it's interesting to read about what he thought of his heroic father, the soldier is a compelling enough character that this is well worth reading whether or not you've read the classic French novels.
In addition, Reiss tells his tale really well. Frequent interjections from him break up the story, but never slow it down, and his writing style is as fast-paced as befits a man of action like Dumas.
We also get a hefty notes session - always useful in a non-fiction work like this - and a staggeringly comprehensive bibliography, with eleven pages of books alone as well as articles and other sources. If you want to read more about the time period, or the man himself, there's enough in this section to keep you going until the middle of the next decade!
And I, for one, certainly do want to read more. That's definitely not to say this is in any way incomplete. Reiss has done a superb job of telling the tale of an incredibly interesting man, but it's whetted my appetite to find out even more.
Highly recommended, one of the best history books of the last few years for me.
For another fascinating tale of a man who is nowhere near as well-known as you might expect, the story of an 18th century forger, as told in The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare by Doug Stewart, is superb.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Black Count: Glory, revolution, betrayal and the real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss at Amazon.com.
The Black Count: Glory, revolution, betrayal and the real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is in the Top Ten History Books of 2013.
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