The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Honestly fascinating and hitherto fully neglected, the hook of this biography is appropriately fantastic. The author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeer's father was a bonafide hero having commanded 50,000 troops... as a black man.
The author of this biography, Reiss, performed a heroic feat, himself, with his research. It's not only full of Alexandre Dumas's reflections on his father General Alex Dumas, but it's corroborated with extensive confirmations AND a truly excellent focus on the historical context, places, events, and significance.
I'll be honest here: I knew a bit about the French Enlightenment and the idealism and its ties to America. I also knew a bit more about the French Revolution. The rise of Napoleon? Yes. His reactionary and full-on return to racism and exploitation of slaves? Yes.
But this book opened my eyes to a much broader look at this surrounding history that showed a quite sympathetic eye racism issue. This isn't simply a modern take on it This is regarding France's own positive Enlightenment developments that preceded and were active during the American Revolution. (So much of this goes hand-in-hand with each other.)
France briefly insisted that all slaves ought to be free. It wasn't universal and it was quite uneven, but it DID exist before Napoleon. Alex Dumas had been an Enlightenment star, highly educated with fantastic martial prowess, and distinguished himself with all the best ideals, and was universally admired even before his successes in the field.
But we know of what happened during the French Revolution. We know how idealism was co-opted by craven power-hungry opportunists and demagogues. How people more interested in power can take advantage of terror to consolidate power and propel their own agendas.
Keeping our OWN world out of this is rather difficult. I'll admit that. I see too many similarities between what happened before the French Revolution to what's happening in the USA today. Bright ideals can quickly be twisted by demagogues to promote massive chaos... and bloodshed.
But as for this book, by itself, I'm MORE than happy with everything I learned. History is beyond important. I'm amazed at the truth of the saying, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."
I fear that we have dark times ahead of us.
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