Best Quotes from Tom Reiss

By | April 29, 2020

The French Revolution was a kind of 21st-century moment in the heart of the 18th century – and Alex Dumas, outstanding though he was, could never have risen the way he did if not for that. The French Revolution was the American Revolution on steroids.

Tom Reiss

Eighteenth-century doctors prescribed sugar pills for nearly everything: heart problems, headache, consumption, labor pains, insanity, old age, and blindness. Hence, the French expression ‘like an apothecary without sugar’ meant someone in an utterly hopeless situation.

Tom Reiss

The demons you have are what motivate you to make your art. This is what drives the detective, this is what drives the painter, this is what drives the writer: a conflicting urge to forget pain and at the same time remember it and fight for some kind of justice. I know these powerful things are inside of me and everyone in some way or another.

Tom Reiss

The French Revolution ends slavery unilaterally. And it does so at this moment when the British, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Americans – all of the other major powers – keep slavery. And the fact is that it’s almost bankrupting the French Colonial Empire.

Tom Reiss

The revolution breaks out; they form this group of swordsmen called the Black Legion. Alex Dumas is there at every moment, protecting the revolution and protecting France, and he rises to the equivalent of a four-star general.

Tom Reiss

Napoleon’s plan was for his army to arrive in Egypt not as conquerors but liberators. Landing in Aboukir Bay on July 1, 1798, the French captured Alexandria the next day, overcoming the surprised Mamelukes – the despotic local rulers – with a combination of modern artillery and infantry tactics.

Tom Reiss

Napoleon – the people who were becoming Napoleon’s generals realized that for him, it was not about spreading freedom and revolution; it was about creating a new empire with Napoleon the dictator or the emperor.

Tom Reiss

In ‘The World Set Free,’ the world’s major superpowers attack each other simultaneously.

Tom Reiss

By comparison, ‘The Secret Agent’ is not especially prescient about terrorism, certainly not technically. The Professor was a stock figure of Edwardian fiction, and his dreams of mass destruction were nothing ahead of their time. Many novels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved plots far more deadly.

Tom Reiss

I am definitely of the method-acting school. Everything to me is about sound. I don’t dress up in period costumes or anything like that. I’m very aural. When I’m working, I try to soak up the sounds of an era.

Tom Reiss

While writing ‘The Orientalist,’ I played a soundtrack that alternated between ragtime and Azeri mugams, Russian operas and German and Italian pop songs from the 1920s and 30s. When I finally finished, I gorged on all my music from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

Tom Reiss

One of my most persistent, long-term fantasy wishes is not that I could fly or become invisible, but that I could make sound recording be invented decades or even centuries earlier than it was, so I could hear what people in the 1830s or 1750s actually sounded like.

Tom Reiss

Prisoners around the world have said that reading ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ helped them get through their ordeal. That’s something to aspire to.

Tom Reiss

I feel like history is about going and discovering the great human stories that just are every bit as relevant as anything that’s going on today.

Tom Reiss

The one challenge you have when you’re going back into history is that people, unlike with today’s news – we think we know what’s happened already – we think that it’s history and therefore less interesting.

Tom Reiss

It was nearly midnight on the night of February 26, 1806, and Alexandre Dumas, the future author of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and ‘The Three Musketeers,’ was asleep at his uncle’s house. He was not yet four years old. He was staying there because his father was gravely ill, and his mother thought it best for him not to be at home.

Tom Reiss

The original Alexandre Dumas was born in 1762, the son of ‘Antoine Alexandre de l’Isle,’ in the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue. Antoine was a nobleman in hiding from his family and from the law, and he fathered the boy with a black slave.

Tom Reiss

Alex Dumas was a consummate warrior and a man of great conviction and moral courage. He was renowned for his strength, his swordsmanship, his bravery, and his knack for pulling victory out of the toughest situations. But he was known, too, for his profane back talk and his problems with authority.

Tom Reiss

For me, history is always personal. And it’s how your personal history interacts with the history of your time. I’m very attracted to characters who were cursed, as the Chinese say, to live in interesting times.

Tom Reiss

The first time I dedicated myself to resurrecting and preserving somebody’s memories was with my great-uncle. I knew he was going to die in the next few years, and I had grown up listening to all his stories about people who had been trapped or chased by the Nazis. I began to record them.

Tom Reiss

Remembering people is the most fundamental gesture of love and respect. For me, there are people in my life who are no longer with me, who have died, who are with me as much as any living person because I remember everything about them. My great-uncle, who I got a lot of guidance in life from, meant so much to me.

Tom Reiss

As a writer, I can’t be a heroic sword fighter like General Dumas, but I can rescue someone who’s been taken out of history by using my writing to bring them back.

Tom Reiss

The Dumas memoirs – which I also discovered when I was a kid – had a big impact on me.

Tom Reiss

When I was a kid, my mum had a lot of Dumas books in the house, and she’s from France originally. My mother had one particular Dumas book that was a family heirloom – this old, beat-up 1938 edition of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ in French. She came to America after losing her parents in World War II as a little kid.

Tom Reiss

The one thing I’m not tempted to ever do is stop working. Retirement would be too tough for me. As a workaholic and an insomniac, I identified with my subject, General Dumas, who, according to field reports, would ride on patrols without sleep sometimes for two nights on end before going into battle – and winning.

Tom Reiss

I once started a small business when I got out of college and enjoyed the stress of making it work. High-stress situations clear my head, and I love the challenge of getting along with many different kinds of people. I’m scared of routine.

Tom Reiss

I’ve considered myself a writer since I was 7 years old, but I’ve done a lot of jobs along the way. I enjoyed waiting tables and tending bar during college, especially when it got busy, so I might like managing a big restaurant. In fact, I might like managing many kinds of businesses or organizations.

Tom Reiss

In 1817, Czar Alexander I personally founded the Society of Israelite Christians but had less luck defeating Judaism than he’d had defeating Napoleon; gentile serfs and merchants in areas bordering the Pale even showed disturbing new signs of ‘Judaizing.’

Tom Reiss

When Czar Ivan III took a liking to the Judaizers, they were invited to Moscow, where they managed to convert so much of the court nobility in the last decades of the fifteenth century that traditionalists felt the need to counter the trend through selective burnings at the stake.

Tom Reiss

Until the absorption of the Polish territories, the Russian Empire had had practically no Jews, and it was uniquely ill-equipped to handle this new addition to its ethnic and religious mix.

Tom Reiss

Lev Nussimbaum was born in October 1905, the moment when the tolerant, haute capitaliste culture of Baku began to fall apart.

Tom Reiss

Viereck became a historian, specializing in modern Russia, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

Tom Reiss

Even arch-isolationists, such as former President Herbert Hoover and Senator Robert Taft of Ohio – two of the most right-wing figures in the Republican Party – insisted on being called liberal.

Tom Reiss

Conservatism as a formal political doctrine didn’t exist in America in 1940. The word ‘conservative’ was associated primarily with fringe groups – anti-industrial Southern agrarians and the anti-New Deal tycoons who led the Liberty League.

Tom Reiss

In the winter of 1940, ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ invited Peter Viereck, a twenty-three-year-old Harvard graduate who had won the college’s top essay and poetry prizes, to write about ‘the meaning of young liberalism for the present age.’

Tom Reiss

The Secret Agent’ remains the most brilliant novelistic study of terrorism as viewed from the blood-spattered outside. But ‘Under Western Eyes’ dares to leap inside – not only into the terrorist mind, but also into the troubled zone that divides West from East, ‘the autocracy in mystic vestments.’

Tom Reiss

The first generation of Russian terrorists came out of the ’60s counterculture – the 1860s in Russia bearing a striking similarity to the 1960s in the United States, with Russian students growing their hair, following gurus who extolled the ‘new man,’ and starting communes.

Tom Reiss

The Secret Agent,’ Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel about an anarchist plot to blow up the Royal Observatory at Greenwich – in fact, a scheme by a secret police agent to stir up a government backlash – has acquired a kind of cult status as the classic novel for the post-9/11 age.

Tom Reiss

In early 1798, the Directory, the oligarchy that was ruling revolutionary France, ordered its top general, Napoleon Bonaparte, to plan the invasion of England. Instead, Napoleon organized and carried out the invasion of Egypt, which became the first modern incursion by the West into the Middle East.

Tom Reiss

‘The War in the Air’ describes the destruction of Manhattan by air attack.

Tom Reiss

‘The Battle of Dorking’ was reprinted as a book and became a best-seller.

Tom Reiss

The life of General Alex Dumas is so extraordinary on so many levels that it’s easy to forget the most extraordinary fact about it: that it was led by a black man, in a world of whites, at the end of the eighteenth century.

Tom Reiss

Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie – father of the future Alex Dumas – was born on February 26, 1714, in the Norman province of Caux, a region of rolling dairy farms that hung above great chalk cliffs on the northwest coast of France.

Tom Reiss

Today, the world is so awash in sugar – it is such a staple of the modern diet, associated with all that is cheap and unhealthy – that it’s hard to believe things were once exactly the opposite. The West Indies were colonized in a world where sugar was seen as a scarce, luxurious, and profoundly health-giving substance.

Tom Reiss

Sugar planting was the oil business of the eighteenth century, and Saint-Domingue was the Ancien Regime’s Wild West frontier, where sons of impoverished noble families could strike it rich.

Tom Reiss

I soon abandoned the question of who Kurban Said or Essad Bey was for the more problematic one – who was Lev Nussimbaum?

Tom Reiss

All anyone agreed on was that Kurban Said was the pen name of a writer who had probably come from Baku, an oil city in the Caucasus, and that he was either a nationalist poet who was killed in the Gulags or the dilettante son of an oil millionaire or a Viennese cafe-society writer who died after stabbing himself in the foot.

Tom Reiss

The Jewish exodus from North Africa, in the late nineteen-fifties and the nineteen-sixties, brought hundreds of thousands of Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian Jews to France.

Tom Reiss

Until 2005, France had the only senior Catholic prelate in modern times who was born Jewish and still considered himself culturally Jewish: Cardinal Lustiger.

Tom Reiss

Since 2002, there has been a wave of attacks against Jewish ‘persons or property’ in France, a great many of them committed by young men living outside Paris, in the vast ghettos called les banlieues.

Tom Reiss

For fifty years, debates about French anti-Semitism mainly revolved around France’s record during the Second World War, when the Vichy government collaborated with the Germans.

Tom Reiss

There’s nothing better than to be rootless cosmopolitans who seamlessly merge into whatever society. That’s the greatest thing human beings can aspire to. Whether forced by duress, Jews became perfect modern human beings. After the Holocaust, one doesn’t really mourn for that – it’s too disturbing, seems like a mistake.

Tom Reiss

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