Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Books I'm Reading: The Black Count
biography of Napoleon. Surprisingly, that book mentions Dumas only in passing, although Dumas became General-in-Chief of the Army of the Alps, distinguishing himself during the French campaigns against Austria in the 1790s, and acted as Napoleon's General-in-Chief of the Cavalry during the later Egyptian campaign. It seems history--or historians anyway--have slighted Dumas as deeply as Napoleon, who quickly grew jealous of the tall, strikingly handsome count, despite his having been one of the Emperor's most loyal and successful generals, treating him rather shabbily. Reiss's book is interesting not only for the details of General Dumas's life it presents but also for the background the book offers illuminating early life in the French colonies (specifically Saint-Domingue), the history of race-related legislation in France (which was remarkably forward-looking just before and during the French Revolution, although Napoleon rolled back much of the progress), and the connections between the life story of General Alex Dumas (who was imprisoned for years in a tower and poisoned) and the work of his writer son, Alexandre Dumas, who drew heavily on his father's experiences for his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Meticulously researched, going back to original sources; half the fun of reading this book is following the first-person sub-narrative of Reiss's detective work.