You probably won’t have heard of Frederick Bruce Thomas. He doesn’t feature in history books and failed to make the cut for the American National Biography. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry but that may be about to change. Vladimir Alexandrov’s new book, The Black Russian, tells Frederick Thomas’s life story, and – hold on to your eyelids – it’s quite a tale. Indeed it’s so colourful and improbable that it reads more like a novel than a work of historical biography.
It begins as a classic rags to riches story: poor boy leaves downtrodden parents and seeks to make his fortune. But Frederick Thomas’s point of departure is already far from ordinary. He was the son of ex-slaves who farmed in America’s Deep South. His life might easily have ended in