Reiss supplements extensive research with recently discovered archives to recount the life of a fascinating and little known figure. As he does so, he provides fascinating insights into the political and cultural climate before, during and after the French revolution, including the development of racism during this period. Hightly recommended !
The creative way in which Tom Reiss has written "The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Crisco" is remarkable. In writing the biography of General Alexandre Dumas, the father of the famous author Alexandre Dumas, Reiss engages the reader with the connections between the real life experiences of the father and the characters, plots, and locations used by the son in his novels "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Three Musketeers." Many of General Dumas exploits such as his imprisonment without trial in the Taranto fortress in the Kingdom of Naples by "The Holy Faith Army" would become inspiration for the son's later book "The Count of Monte Cristo."
Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie arrived in France from Saint-Domingue (Haiti) as a slave in 1776 at age 14, the son of a white fugitive aristocrat, the Marquis de la Pailleterie, and a black slave, Cessette Dumas. Enlisting in the army in June of 1786 Thomas-Alexandre would change his name to Alexandre Dumas for a number of reasons. Among the possible reasons, anger at his father for having sold him in Saint-Domingue or as an aristocrat's son he would be damaging his father name (the Marquis) by enlisting as a private instead of officer as was expected. Note: Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie would have had difficulty becoming an officer because of his mixed race and the law making it difficult to claim his rightful title.
Alexandre's rise through the military ranks from private to general would be meteoric owing to the circumstances of the French Revolution and because of his individual attributes, such as bravery on the battlefield, his strength, equestrian ability, and swordsmanship. Rising above the racial injustices of the period General Dumas excelled as one of the most legendary cavalry generals in Europe.
"The Black Count" is an admirable biography; the military life of Dumas revolves around the French Revolution 1789-1799 of which Reiss covers in a concise although brief manner. The book is well researched and the determination by the author to seek out all letters, diaries, and official military records is evident in his Prologue and the bibliography. I found the book fascinating and informative and look forward to more works by Tom Reiss. I highly recommend this book and give it the 5 Stars it deserves.
64 internautes sur 71 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
The Real Count of Monte Cristo, Titan of the French Revolution23 août 2012
This detailed book reads like a novel, with its fluid narrative that presents the autobiographical story of Alex Dumas and his tremendous contribution to the French Revolution. Mr. Reiss weaves a fascinating story while incorporating a plethora of resources having expended years of effort in accumulating tremendous research materials to substantiate the accuracy of this account.
It is a quick read that connects the dots and encompasses critical historic moments leading to the re-creation of France and eventually much of the European theater.
Surely, this epic tome will become required reading for historians, who want a fresh perspective on the French Revolution and how the freed mulatto slave, Alexandre Dumas born in what is now Haiti, demonstrated throughout his military career, using his tremendous strategic skill, honor, courage and fighting aptitude to win many battles!
At first, Mr. Reiss presents a brief history of his father, Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie who having left France to seek his fortune in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), then a resource rich colony of France, known for its great production of sugar cane. He married a wealthy woman and purchased a plantation and slaves to become a sugar producer. Later, he purchased a black woman, Marie-Cessette, who was considered quite a beauty for a tremendous sum. Together, they had four children, including a son named Thomas- Alexandre (whom later detached from his father's noble status instead used part of his mother's full name, to be known as Alexandre Dumas or Alex Dumas). When mismanagement led to great debt, Alexandre Pailleterie eventually fled Haiti to return to France , nearly penniless, he sold his mistress and their three living children as slaves, to acquire the money necessary to purchase passage to France for himself and Alexandre. Once they arrived in France, Alexandre attended school and trained as a swordsman, quite quickly, his talent at swordsmanship, gained him great renown throughout France.
Alex joined the military and quickly arose through the ranks, his great intelligence and exceptional bravery in battle soon got him the recognition of his superiors and subsequent promotions. Within very little time, he was moved up the ranks rapidly. Breaking the color barrier again and again soon becoming in charge significant numbers of men, first among the "dragoons"- free men of color, mainly from Saint-Domingue; eventually he was given charge of thousands of white men. His assignments met with marvelous tales of courage. He was entrusted on many occasions to perform reconnaissance missions and often his actions caused the enemy to cede an area or surrender before any great fighting ensued. There are numerous tales of his tremendous valor and talent when ambushed; on one such event, he alone fought 8 men killing 3 and wounding others, those who could fled; while he only sustained a few light surface wounds. Eventually, his accomplishments were fully acknowledge and he was bestowed the title of General. His fame and great accomplishments of service led to a terrible captivity in Naples, Italy where multiple attempts of poisoning nearly killed him due to his already declining health. Likewise, physical attacks were rendered, though he was far outnumbered and despite of his poor health, he proved his expert skills were still far superior to his enemy combatants.
His career terminated in sad fashion as Bonaparte sought to destroy him. Napolean Bonaparte, once an equal to Dumas, was a consummate politician, who took credit for many of Dumas's strategies and successes. His deceit and cunning allowed him to install puppets among the various bodies of the new government; who in turn advanced Bonaparte in power and notoriety. As his influence increased, his jealousy of Dumas allowed him to systematically dismantle the authority and career Dumas had earned. Had Dumas not attained such tremendous admiration even among those whom he confronted in battle or was sent to occupy; Napolean more than likely would have attempted to set him up for treason or used some other means to murder Dumas.
Were he alive today, he would probably be in charge of the equivalent of our Special Forces or some other distinguished elite military command post. Few displayed such a commitment that surpassed all other priorities; having chose to repeatedly lay down his life to build a new France which empowered all people at all costs; being given extended assignments, many lasting years at time away from his adored wife and children, salary and health and eventually his life.
It was his son, Alexandre Dumas, who continued to memorialize his father's exploits through stories "The Count of Monte Cristo", "The Three Musketeers" and also a biography.
This is a must read for those who love history. Enjoy!
45 internautes sur 49 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Chock full of well-written history and swash26 août 2012
I recently told my son I was reading a biography of Alexandre Dumas, not the novelist, but his father. He raised an eyebrow and said, "You must have more time than I do." He assumed this would be similar to the biography of Hemingway's father, or Steinbeck's father, men we know of only because they had famous sons. But that is just not the case. If young Alexandre had died in infancy, the story of his dashing and remarkable father would still be one worth reading. What an astonishing life.
While I would consider myself to know more history than the average joe, my knowledge and understanding of France's past was clearly more slight than I realized. That gap has been diminished immeasurably by this wonderful book. For it deftly and skillfully places the events of the times in the context of the life I was reading about, merging the biography of a gallant, fiery and elegant man and an overview of one of the most tumultuous periods in history. And does so in a manner that manages to keep the reader focused on what was happening at the time, rather than dragging in those irritating, "If only he had known what was about to happen" or "His dreams would soon be shattered" brickbats. And the sordid and sad tale of the temporary revolutionary racial equality and its demise was wonderfully told. That itself would make a great book.
My only complaint, and it is just a minor irritation but one that prevents the fifth star, is the incessant authorial interjections. I guess when you see the author's name is Tom, not Thomas, you can expect a more casual book, and while the author is clearly a scholar and superlative researcher, there were, for my taste, too many "When I read this..." and "While discussing that.." moments. I know you read these documents. Bringing yourself in was just, to me, clumsy and unnecessary.
But an exciting, nay, amazing tale of a man who was born nowhere with nothing, rising to the top by his own efforts, and then through bad luck and bad people being brought low. When they film this, as they surely must, I hope they remain true to the facts, for this is a glorious and informative tale of honor, dedication, strength, passion and patriotism. A wonderful telling of a spectacular tale.
12 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Impeccably researched, and as entertaining as a French novel26 août 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).
31 internautes sur 37 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
A balanced biography of a French slave turned French General14 août 2012
His father was a failed French aristocrat, his mother a stolen plantation slave from Haiti. The Life of Alex Dumas (the father of the author Alexandre Dumas) was full of suspense and action. He grew to his teen years on the island of Haiti. When he was fourteen he witnessed his father sell his mother and siblings into slavery and later witnessed himself being sold into slavery to book his father's passage back to France. Yet through a miraculous turn of events his father redeems his son and gives him the life of a French aristocrat in Paris. The young Alex Dumas learns the arts of fencing and horseback riding...
This is the beginning but certainly not the end of the life of a man who lived between the two worlds of being a French nobleman and being a French slave. Throughout his life he would win the honor and respect of other men for his daring deeds on the battle field only to be rejected by others simply because of the color of his skin. He would fight in a revolution that sought equality for all men only to be forgotten by those whom he had helped the most.
This is a great book and well worth the read. It is a balanced biography that not only tells the tale of the man, but of the times in which he lived. I highly recommend it.