“Later in life, I learned that the way many governors projected the numbers of beds they’d need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders. Elected officials deduced that a strong percentage of kids reading below their grade level by third grade would be needing a secure place to stay when they got older.”
What’s The Book About?
Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighbourhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.
I decided to read ‘The Other Wes Moore’ because I found the premise interesting. How do two boys with the same name, living in similar neighbourhoods end up with radically different lives? What was the turning point? But at the end of the book, the author doesn’t give an answer to the question because it would have been an impossible task.
So what did I love?
I really enjoyed learning about the backgrounds of both men, particularly the influences in their lives and the significance this would play in the decisions they made. Wes Moore, the author, grew up in a family where education was of paramount importance and his mother made difficult decisions at various points including sending him to military school to ensure he lived up to his potential. In contrast, Wes Moore who is currently serving a life sentence for killing a police officer during a robbery, grew up in an environment with limited expectations. It’s an environment that I would describe to be perpetually violent (not in terms of his immediate family) physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Both boys, unfortunately, existed in a society that is more geared towards the school to prison pipeline than success.
To an extent, I agree with the dissatisfaction of some readers that the book had a flawed premise. Not to diminish the power of overcoming harsh circumstances, but it was apparent throughout the book that the lives of both men were significantly different in important areas which makes it hard to make a genuine comparison. I felt despondent quite frequently listening to the book and reflecting on the injustice of the cycle of violence that boys like Wes grow up in. By the end of the book, I had one word stuck in my mind – social lottery. The American Philosopher John Rawls coined this term in his theory of redistributive justice, to describe the social circumstances we are born into and have no control over. These circumstances, however, have the potential to influence our ability to succeed. The stories of both Moore’s will stay with me for a while as I continue to mull over the lessons.
I have to admit it took some time for me to get into the book (halfway through I changed the listening speed to 1.5) but I found it to be a compelling and insightful listen.
Top Three Quotes
“Life’s impermanence, I realised is what makes every single day so precious. It’s what shapes our time here. It’s what makes it so important that not a single moment can be wasted.”
“I realised then how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.”
“I guess it’s hard sometimes to distinguish between second chances and last chances.”
✯✯✯ – Hit and Miss
Guide to Book Review Rating
✯ – Meh
✯✯ – Read at your own risk
✯✯✯ – Hit and Miss
✯✯✯✯✯- Life Companion. Thank me later!
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