The New York Times - Notable Books of 2012

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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (2012)

Written by Tom Reiss

Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo – a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature.

Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave – who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. 

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East – until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.

This book won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, the 2013 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, 2013 Phillis Wheatley Book Award, 2012 Plutarch Award, and the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Biography/Autobiography. (Copyright © Crown/Random House. All rights reserved.)

Source:  Penguin Random House Company.

Tom Reiss is an American author, historian, and journalist. He is known as the author of The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, which was honored with the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. His previous books include Führer-Ex: Memoirs of a Former Neo-Nazi and The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, which became an international bestseller. As a journalist, he has written for The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

Tom Reiss was born on May 5, 1964, in New York City. He spent his first years of his life in Washington Heights in Manhattan and then in San Antonio and Dallas, Texas, where his father worked as an Air Force neurosurgeon. After that, his family moved to Western Massachusetts, and he spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence in New England. He attended the Hotchkiss School and then Harvard College, where he joined the writing and editing staffs of The Harvard Crimson newspaper and The Harvard Advocate magazine. Graduating from Harvard in 1987, Reiss was also influenced by various jobs he held, such as hospital orderly, bartender, small business entrepreneur, teacher, and, in Japan, rock band member and actor in television commercials and gangster films.

In 1989, Reiss returned to Texas to study creative writing at the University of Houston, under the guidance of professor Donald Barthelme. When Barthelme died in summer 1989, Reiss left Texas and traveled to Germany in order to begin researching his family history, and became fascinated by the rapidly changing political and social context in East Germany after the Berlin Wall fell. In order to effectively search documents and communicate with German citizens, he taught himself the German language.

Reiss also used his German to better understand members of his family, who had escaped Nazi Europe in the 1930s. His maternal grandparents had been murdered by the Nazis, after being deported from Paris to Auschwitz, but his mother survived as a hidden child in France during World War II. While in Germany, he also interviewed East German neo-Nazi youth, in an attempt to learn why they were embracing the political and sociological ideals of their ancestors.

He lives with his wife and daughters in New York City.

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