Title: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
Author: Tom Reiss
Fun Fact: Sugar was once considered a rare substance and prescribed as a cure for nearly everything.
Review Summary: An incredible true adventure told by seamlessly combining personal anecdotes and broader social issues in a fascinating story.
Although many of you have probably read or watched The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, few people know that many of the adventures in these classics were inspired by the author’s father, also named Alex Dumas. From exciting sword fights to wrongful imprisonment, this true story has it all. Why did Alex Dumas have so many exciting adventures? In the name of “liberty, fraternity, and equality” of course! That’s right… Alex Dumas was a hero of the French Revolution, one who embodied the best qualities of that revolution. Not only did he take advantage of the unparalleled racial equality it caused, his stunning rise through the military never lead him to stop treating all others with the respect and human dignity he believed they deserved.
This was an amazing story which reminded me why I love narrative non-fiction. I always enjoy a good adventure story, but the fact that these adventures actually happened adds another layer of awesome to the reading experience. However, the author didn’t just happen to have a good story to work with; he did a great job with the writing. The writing style was typical of scholarly popular biographies, clearly well-researched and informative without the language becoming too scholarly for a fun read. It was sometimes funny and even included the occasional pop culture reference. This writing style, in addition to the engrossing story, made The Black Count a very accessible read.
Something that’s very important to a good biography is the use of primary sources and the author does a great job with those as well. Snippets of letters by and about Dumas are seamlessly worked into the story told by the author. The sources added a lot to the narrative, including support for the author’s inferences about Dumas’ feelings and character. By the end of the book, I felt like we’d really gotten to know him. In addition to the personal anecdotes about Dumas, the author introduces broader social issues of the time and details of life during that time period. This context, as well as Dumas’ interaction with famous historical figures such as Napoleon and Robespierre, really helped me understand how he fit into his time period. This mix of personal anecdotes and exciting adventures with historical details exemplifies what I look for in narrative non-fiction. If you also love narrative non-fiction or swash-buckling adventure stories, you should definitely check this out.