This, I guess, is the first of many recommendations (which will range all over the place, I promise).
I’ve finished reading Tom Reiss’ “The Black Count”. Loved it. Hard to put it down. It does read like a novel. It’s part adventure, part history lesson (and there are many lessons to be learned) and part biography of a man who was born in the tropics, lived the high life among French nobility, fought battles on glaciers and mountain bridges, sailed to Egypt and was then imprisoned by circumstance – all by the age of 40.
Reiss’ Pulitzer Prize-winner captures the violence, shifting politics and fickle social cravings of late-eighteenth century France on a scale that’s hard to believe. He excels at describing the complicated context in which a ‘mulatto’ boy from Jeremie (in what is now Haiti) would step off the boat with his aristocrat (if scoundrel) father and enter a then-colorblind, egalitarian French society. Long before fathering “Monte Cristo” and “Three Musketeers” novelist A. Dumas, this young “American” master of many arts would assume the name Alex Dumas upon enlisting in the early years of the French Revolution. And in no time, he’d become a legendary general whose adventures and military successes incurred the jealousy of cohort and fiery rival Napoleon.
Though it’s not for the dainty doilies (or a young audience), it’s simply an amazing story.