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The Other Wes Moore

Book Review of: The Other Wes Moore

One Name and Two Fates: A Story of Tragedy and Hope

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Review of The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore, (Softcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

I liked this book, and for several reasons. The two main ones:

  1. The two parallel stories were interesting and well-written, making the book fast-paced.
  2. The author had something significant to say.

The author is a highly accomplished individual. What the "About the Author part" doesn't tell you is he's a humble person. It was because of his humility that he had the insight that led him to write this book.

The author is one of the Wes Moores in this book. The other Wes Moore is serving life in prison. This book could have been a self-aggrandizing "How I ended up as I did, instead of like him" work. But, it wasn't. The author made no secret of his own human weaknesses. So, if the author wasn't "better than" the prisoner, why the difference in outcomes? That is what this book reveals.

Some answers to that central question immediately come to mind, for example:

  • They lived in different cities. Wrong. They lived not far from each other.
  • One came from a wealthy family, the other did not. Wrong again.
  • The author's father had great connections. Actually, both men grew up without their fathers. The author's father died when the author was young.
  • OK, we still have race issues. So one of them was white and the other black, and the black guy was the victim of distributive injustices. A fat zero on that one. Both men are black. The author, in fact, has a tooth chipped from a racially-motivated attack on him.
  • Well then, one of them was stupid and the other very bright. Nope, the prisoner is articulate and so is the author. The author is more educated than the prisoner, but nothing indicates a massive difference in intelligence. Besides, very smart people often fail. It's not about intelligence or any personal trait--that misses the point of the book.

There was no single magic bullet in either case. Both men had been given help and both men had been given obstacles. A major point the author makes is that in either case the outcome was decided by the response to a series of decisions and events. One choice led to another choice, but the choices could have been different and the path changed at many points along the way.

The author also points out that while we're in the middle of things and learning how to deal with life, the obviously correct choices aren't obviously correct to us. Only when others mentor to us can we rise above our own ignorance and lack of understanding.

I believe the purpose of this book is twofold:

  1. To illustrate how mentoring can make all the difference in how young people turn out.
  2. To encourage people to mentor to others.

The author doesn't come out and say, "You need to mentor." But the story he presents certainly makes for a good example of the power of positive mentoring, especially for young people. It also shows what bad role models can do.

The story itself is 177 pages. It's followed by the Afterword, "A Call to Action" (by Tavis Smiley). After that is a 63-page Resource Guide. This guide provides summary information on helpful organizations, in the form of a four column table. The columns are organization name, services provided targeting youth, geography/scope, and contact information.

This book consists of the Introduction, the story (in 3 Parts), the epilogue, the Afterword, the Resource Guide, and the acknowledgements.

In Part I, Fathers and Angels, there are three chapters. This Part provides the background as to how the two Wes's arrived at their "fork in the road" teen years. Their stories really are not all that different, at this point.

In Part II, Choices and Second Chances, there are three chapters. Here is where we see the mentoring and bad role models at work. At several points, it's apparent that the author Wes had before him the same path as the prisoner Wes. In fact, the author would have taken the path to failure, if not for the extraordinary mentoring, love, and persistence of other people who went way out of their way to influence his choices.

The author Wes, when he arrived at military school, was a classic "lost cause" with just about zero hope of becoming anything other than a zero and loser in life. Yet, his mother and her parents had hope for the boy and sacrificed immensely to get him into that school. His transformation was unlikely, at best. And yet, it happened.

In Part III, Paths Taken and Expectations Fulfilled, we find the final two chapters. One thing we see In Chapter 7 is that the (future) prisoner Wes turns his life around through the Job Corps. As I read this, I wondered how the heck he wound up in prison. That's revealed in the final chapter. In that final chapter also, we see how once again mentoring has amazing power and how it leads the author Wes to a Rhodes Scholarship.

I left out many details that other reviewers may cover. For example, I don't talk about the author Wes' military career or his time as a special assistant to Dr. Condoleezza Rice when she was United States Secretary of State. Nor do I talk about the prisoner Wes' conversion to the Muslim faith and how he's become a devout and humble practitioner of that faith.

Many people think of mentoring as the process by which a career climber can grab an extra rung or two. But it can be, and should be, much more than that. It can make a difference to a teenager in any demographic. The small acts of kindness, encouragement, and teaching can lead that teen to a productive life or one that has been shattered.

This book isn't a recycling of new age stuff and psychobabble. Those things are conspicuously absent from this book. What we do find is an honest, well-researched comparison of how mentors made an enormous differences in one life, and how another suffered due to their absence. The author doesn't brag about his success. He thanks those who helped him get there, and wants to see more young people helped.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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