Book Crush: The Black Count

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Happy St. Patty’s Day folks! Today’s Book Crush takes place at one of my favorite outdoor reading venues in Bellingham. On the walk between downtown and Fairhaven, there’s this ramp overlooking the water that is peopled with wooden benches. And while they may not be the softest benches ever, the view is great, the air is salty and I can’t think of many places I’d rather read on my day off…always providing it’s warm enough of course.

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When my girlfriend Scarlett and I were girls we loved the book The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m not sure what appealed to us. The adventure, the exotic locales, or just the writing itself. Later in life I picked up The Black Tulip, another adventure story by Alexander Dumas, and thoroughly enjoyed it both as a discussion of a very interesting time in horticultural history and simply because it was a ‘ripping yarn’.

black countBeing also a fan of history itself, I was delighted to come across this book one Sunday afternoon. Author Tom Reiss spent over a decade researching the life of Alexander Dumas’ father, General Alex Dumas. And when you start to look at the facts, suddenly Dumas’ outlandish tales of derring-do and conspiracy seem a lot more grounded in reality.

Are you interested in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era? This book will give you a whole new perspective on them. It turns out that Alexander Dumas’ father was the son of a French gentleman and a Haitian lady. Tom Reiss delves into the history of the sugar plantations in the Caribbean as well as Napoleon’s failed attempt to conquer Egypt. The range of this book is fairly far-reaching, all told through the lens of one incredible man’s life story.

My only beef with this book is that I would have liked to see more primary sources from the perspective of General Alex Dumas. That said, perhaps not many of his letters have survived. In either case, I enjoyed Reiss’ spare, though evocative prose. And this is a story that certainly needs to be told. Even just the two pages devoted to the fate of Toussaint Louverture’s sons gives the reader a greater understanding of that era, as well as the contemporary era. It is an unmasking of history that has been buried for too long.

If you enjoy reading history, pick up this book next time you’re at the bookstore. Reiss’ book is well-researched, finely written and significant. Plus it’s a ripping good yarn.

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