Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review: 'The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates' by Wes Moore

Review by Susan Gardner
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates 
By Wes Moore 
Hardcover, 256 pages, $25.00 
Spiegel & Grau 
April 2010
Money quote:
This is the story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name: Wes Moore. One of us is free and has experienced things that he never even knew to dream about as a kid. The other will spend every day until his death behind bars for an armed robbery that left a police officer and father of five dead. The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his. Our stories are obviously specific to our two lives, but I hope they will illuminate the crucial inflection points in every life, the sudden moments of decision where our paths diverge and our fates are sealed. It's unsettling to know how little separates each of us from another life altogether.

Author: First-time author, former Army combat veteran, youth advocate, former special assistant to Secretary of State Condeloeezza Rice as a White House Fellow, speaker at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, investment professional.
Basic premise: Two African American men. Same name. Born around the same time, living in the same city, of roughly the same class. Ultimately, radically different lives. One imprisoned for life, the other a respected professional. Moore explores his life story and that of his doppelganger, hoping to tease out the reasons why some succeed and some fail in very similar circumstances.
Readability/quality: Smooth reading, nice “plot” development if one can say that about non-fiction (you can, regarding memoirs, in my view). Good character description and thoughtful consideration of difficult topics--nature versus nurture writ large in all its complexity.
Who should read it: Fans of memoirs and sociological explorations for laypeople, as well as anyone interested in race and class issues, urban settings, influence of family and peers on personal outcomes.
Bonus quote:
... when I finish my story, the question that comes up the most is the one that initiated this quest: "What made the difference?"
And the truth is that I don't know. The answer is elusive. People are so wildly different, and it's hard to know when genetics or environment or just bad luck is decisive. As I've puzzled over the issue, I've become convinced that there are some clear and powerful measures that can be taken during this crucial time in a young person's life. Some of the ones that helped me come to mind, from finding strong mentors to being entrusted with responsibilities that forced me to get serious about my behavior. There is no one thing that leads people to move in one direction or another. I think the best we can do is give our young people a chance to make the best decisions possible by providing them with the information and the tools and the support they need.
Moore took a subject that could easily veer off into self-indulgence--his personal history and that of someone similar--and made it larger than himself. Weaving his own story and the other Wes Moore’s together, he is able to draw attention to the places of similarities (missing fathers, early rebellions, overworked mothers) and places of difference (strong and involved grandparents, private school). But the parallels and divergences become about so much more than just these two men; the author’s luck in finding mentors, and in finding his own responsibility and strength in military experience outline the importance of structure, peers and adults who are committed to guiding the next generation. Both stories are, in every sense of the phrase, very American stories, with tragedy, challenge and success in our system often pegged to very small steps and missteps along the way.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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