Author of the best-selling The Orientalist, which unfolded the complicated life story of a Caucasus-born Jew who declared himself a Muslim prince, Reiss seems like the right guy to chronicle slave-turned-general Alexandre Dumas. Hed be unknown today had the son who shares his name not used his adventures as the basis for numerous enduring novels.

Born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in present-day Haiti, Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but then made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.