Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 46.
- Review Date: 2010-03-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Two hauntingly similar boys take starkly different paths in this searing tale of the ghetto. Moore, an investment banker, Rhodes scholar, and former aide to Condoleezza Rice, was intrigued when he learned that another Wes Moore, his age and from the same area of Greater Baltimore, was wanted for killing a cop. Meeting his double and delving into his life reveals deeper likenesses: raised in fatherless families and poor black neighborhoods, both felt the lure of the money and status to be gained from dealing drugs. That the author resisted the criminal underworld while the other Wes drifted into it is chalked up less to character than to the influence of relatives, mentors, and expectations that pushed against his own delinquent impulses, to the point of exiling him to military school. Moore writes with subtlety and insight about the plight of ghetto youth, viewing it from inside and out; he probes beneath the pathologies to reveal the pressures—poverty, a lack of prospects, the need to respond to violence with greater violence—that propelled the other Wes to his doom. The result is a moving exploration of roads not taken. (May 4)
Two men, one name
Wes Moore—Rhodes scholar, army officer and one-time Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—discovered one day in a newspaper article that he shared a name with someone whose life had taken a far different turn. Though they were born only a year apart in the same Baltimore neighborhood, the other Wes Moore was now doomed to spend the rest of his life in prison after committing a robbery that culminated in the death of a police officer. Determined to discover how two people from such similar backgrounds could wind up in vastly different circumstances, one Wes Moore decided to research the other.
The Other Wes Moore shows there are no easy explanations. Moore the author makes no attempt to justify the imprisoned Moore’s actions, even while detailing a familiar litany of neglect, absence of male role models and bad choices. The successful Wes Moore also shows he was far from perfect in his youth, but thanks to his loving family’s insistence that he fulfill his potential, he excelled in academics and forged a satisfying career. Through hundreds of interviews, not only with his namesake, but with police, social workers and others, Moore’s book reaffirms the impact that even one tough parent can have on a child’s ultimate success or failure.
It also dispels some myths, most notably the contention that everyone who grows up in the mean streets eventually either emulates the negative behavior surrounding them or is overcome by it. Writer and journalist Moore emphatically says the other Wes Moore is not a victim. But he does see him as another person who fell through the cracks. Their one-on-one discussions crackle with intensity, as the two men frequently disagree. Still, the author continually wrestles with the reality that they aren’t nearly as different as their social positions indicate.
While in prison, Moore has acknowledged his guilt, converted to Islam, become a grandfather and accepted the fact that he’ll probably never be released. The two Moores share the priority of keeping other young men, especially black kids, from mimicking his behavior and making the same mistakes. The Other Wes Moore contains a detailed resource guide, providing parents with the names of organizations that can help them in times of need and offer counsel before problematic cases degenerate into hopeless outcomes. He knows he can’t save everyone, but Wes Moore is determined to do whatever he can to prevent the emergence of more “other Wes Moore” situations.