The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore, (Softcover, 2010)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
I liked this book, and for several reasons. The two main ones:
- The two parallel stories were interesting and well-written,
making the book fast-paced.
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- To illustrate how mentoring can make all the difference in how
young people turn out.
- 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.