An online marketing consultant, an avid reader of 400 + books a year. Professional reader, reviewer, and blogger. Enjoy ARCs and new releases.
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 11/24/2015
My Rating: 5 Stars +
Featured Weekend Read
A special thank you to Random House and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
TOP BOOKS OF 2015! 5 Stars+
Award-winning literary journalist, Jeanne Marie Laskas returns following Hidden America, with her unique talent and style, uncovering real people, their obstacles, triumphs, and raw human emotions--written with wit, sensitivity, and compassion. A well-researched, gripping story, relevant to today’s top controversial headlines.
Landing on my Top 30 Books for 2015, CONCUSSION, is brilliantly written---an inside view and compelling journey of thirty-four year-old Dr. Bennet Omalu. An extraordinary man, an up close and personal story. His version, told by Laskas of the events, the unraveling--leading up to, and the subsequent fallout after his astonishing discovery of CTE, 2002; and ultimately the fight against one of American's largest giants. The injustice. The cover-up. Greed. The NFL’s denial. How the scenario played out, both personally and professionally through his eyes.
CTE, An intriguing medical mystery. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.
The disease was previously called dementia pugilistica (DP), i.e. "punch-drunk", as it was initially found in those with a history of boxing. The brain has always been mysterious. An organ which deteriorates over time with damage. The damage is not apparent immediately. Cannot outwardly be seen. The progression and the dangerous stages; earth-shattering! The men who tried to reach out for help, until it was too late.
Laskas re-creates heart-felt scenes and humble beginnings of Bennett from the villages in Nigeria to his hopes and dreams of a life in America, where everything back home was about busting loose from the pettiness, the corruption, and the wicked tendencies of man.
Ironically, as the book opens America, 2008--approaching forty years of age, Omalu is stuck in a boiling hot courtroom in Pittsburgh, where he feels like everything is once again about bursting loose from more of the same. Now in America.
Flashing back to 2002, and earlier times, to after the discovery of CTE, having been run out of the town of Pittsburgh—a place where he used to live. A place where he made his mark. His discovery. His safe haven. The home he and his wife were building for their family- a house now complete, sitting empty—as is his work, and reputation—now the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County in California. Once again reliving this nightmare. The defendant, his former boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht, the man who gave him a chance. His American seventy-six year old father figure. He is forced to testify against him.
A religious Christian, and a devout Catholic, Omalu was born in Nnokwa, Nigeria in September 1968, the sixth of seven siblings. He was born during the Nigerian Civil War, which caused his family to flee from their home in the predominately Igbo village of Enugwu-Ukwu in southeastern Nigeria. Returning two years after his birth.
A close knit family and highly respected in the village, Omalu’s mother was a seamstress and his father an orphan, who believed education equaled freedom-- excelled as a civil mining engineer for the Nigerian government and community leader in Enugwu-Ukwu. The family name, Omalu, is a shortened form of the surname, Onyemalukwubew, which translates to “if you know, come forth and speak.” Bennet meaning “blessed”. Life is the greatest gift of all.
Dr. Bennet Omalu will indeed change the world with his discovery. However, as all great men, throughout our history. He is misunderstood. Hopefully this book will serve as an outreach to others, to educate.
Highly intelligent, Bennet started school at three years of age, high school and college years before others his age. Due to being sheltered, shielded, and protected he was naïve in many social areas. He did not want to see dirty. He had a pristine sense of idealism in his virginal mind. He did not like political strife. He dreamed of being an airline pilot, traveling the world with excitement. Far from his mind, being a doctor. His father had other ideas for his son’s future. Everyone is their family was successful. He would make his family proud. All of the Omalu children would go on to succeed in their professions. He would go to the US, the land of perfection and excellence.
America: A land where mankind is at its best. The land of milk and honey. However, he will soon learn, a shattered dream. One being racism. Injustice. How could a Christian nation founded on Christian principles perpetuate such evil over centuries? Why so many blacks in American did not become educated? There was something wrong with America. He would soon learn more evil with an example of one of the worst David vs. Goliath battles- going up against the NFL. He does not understand.
From medical school in Nigeria, six years, then a clinical internship, mandated paramilitary service, three years doctoring in a rural village---to America; the research scholarship, the second medical degree at Columbia University. He chose forensic pathology as a specialty. A specialist in death - why, and how death occurs. Board certified in four separate areas of pathology—anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology. Now in the courtroom, he is finishing up two more degrees for a total of seven. A master’s in public health in epidemiology and a master’s in business administration.
Being an expert in death would seem to be a counter intuitive move for a physician, a person committed to saving lives. How he ended up doing autopsies for a living-- None of this had been in his plan for his life. God had a bigger purpose.
To Bennet, a young forensic pathologist on the threshold of his career, Wecht embodied a particularly glamorous American dream, and that’s who Bennet wanted to study and work with…the reason for coming to Pittsburgh. Seven years he worked for Wecht, teaching him how to project self-confidence like an American. How to be ruthless when it came to local politics. From buying the tailored suits, the Mercedes, and all the things he needed to survive and compete; having to overcome being black. He learned from Wecht, the Pittsburgh’s medical examiner, he taught him about life, how to dress, build confidence, attitude – Wecht was famous, inserting himself in virtually every famous case of his day—he respected him.
Bennett was diligent, taking work home. Laying out brains, studying them on his dining room table. Wecht allowed him freedom, to explore, to create; yet sometimes putting his name on his work, he never once complained. He was paying his dues. He was promoting himself. Learning lessons about the harsh reality of American individualism. Largely because of Wecht’s confidence in him, Bennett became a brain expert in the first place. The field of forensic neuropathology—the study of the brain to determine cause of death. He began examining brains closer.
The day his life changed. A brain came to him to examine. Mike Webster, the NFL player who died. He had no idea what a Steeler was, until he encountered Mike’s body in the morgue in 2002. That was the beginning of a relationship. He was not caught up in this all consuming American sport. The one with repeated head trauma. He was asked to examine his brain. The day, the moment -- which would forever change the course of his life as well as thousands, with the discovery of CTE.
He grew to love Mike. His spirit. His soul. He talked to him. He wants to help him with answers. He changed his life in more ways than he could possible imagine. Bennet made a discovery in Mike’s brain that would help people forgive Webster for turning into a madman the way he did—and would go on to rattle America in ways he never intended.
With his education, his refugee background, Bennet saw much of his own story in Wecht’s. With his own depression, he relies on his faith. He becomes a close friend with Father Carmen, his love of God, his prayer group, where he shared his concern of racial unrest. He has an opportunity to prove his diligence when the Kimbell trial begins in 2002 when a man is set free after years in prison, falsely accused. He pays attention to details. He meets Prema, his future wife. She is afraid for him. He wants answers for Mike, his family, and all the NFL players.
“Living people mess you up. Living people are messy. Dead people are clean. There is no politics with dead people. With dead people what you see is what you get and you can keep looking and looking, and get more, and once you look inside the brain you find the story is beautiful in the way all things are infinite are beautiful. Holy. Every dead person is a controlled story, a distinct narrative revealing itself on the edge of a scalpel and through the lens of a microscope. It’s honest. It’s linear.”
He soon learns more about the real evil cruel world. Football. Exploitation. Dumped. Complications. The deficiencies in society. Possibly he did not belong in this society. Everyone is insulting his work. Ignored warnings. He is not included. A life he wanted. He became unsettled, depressed, and angry. He strives for perfection.
What about the football players? Who is protecting them? The NFL is not excited about his findings? Retraction? His work? Now society, the NFL, the media - brushing him aside. He is like Iron Mike. Hall of Famer. Dead at age fifty. No longer needed. He soon learned Mike’s determination, sheer will, insane training regimen, the extremes, and the abuse to his body, the best center in the NFL. Then they were done with him. He had to retire. From rage, his memory. His mind. Paranoia, dementia, delusion, addictions. Money gone. Homeless. Using a Taser to sleep. How did a fifty year old man become crazy? Repeated blows to the head. Mike was only the beginning. More to follow. Young, and old. More wives and families left behind. Suicides. Men driven to end their lives. How can he save these men before this happens again? Does all football players have this brain disease?
WOW! A riveting, powerful human tale—and what a storyteller! If you want a story told, Laskas is the ideal choice. I had to smile at the reference to Michael Jackson. Having just finished MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson, - can see the relation to both men, perfectionist and passionate about their work. Misunderstood.
I found myself bookmarking so many pages; engrossing and absorbing, CONCUSSION reads like a work of fiction, versus non-fiction. I could not put it down. In years past, have been primarily a reader of fiction; however, this past year, have been introduced to so many really talented non-fiction authors, with interesting topics, I plan to devote more time to this area in 2016.
An amazing journey when Jeanne Marie Laskas first met the young forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2009, while reporting a story for GQ, would go on to inspire the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, coming Christmas Day, 2015.View Movie Trailer
One of the most riveting, most significant medical discoveries of the twenty-first century, a discovery that challenges the existence of America’s favorite sport and puts Omalu in the crosshairs of football’s most powerful corporation: the NFL. Will Smith is the perfect cast for Omalu and looking forward to the upcoming movie. My hopes for continued awareness and changes.
Compared to the David vs. Goliath giants; the tobacco industry/cancer, environmental contamination, and pharmaceutical industry. Fraud. Cover-Ups. Greed. Tactics to lessen the findings and importance. From attorneys, a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, lawsuits, specialists, opportunists, families, those who shut him out, attempts to discredit his work, not giving him credit for his discovery, the ultimate denial.
Immediately following read the author’s Game Brain an article written in 2009 for GQ— Bennet Omalu’s forgotten piece of the story, and inspiration behind the book CONCUSSION.
Listened to the audiobook of League of Denial, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, a comprehensive account of the history of the NFL mishandling of the crisis of traumatic brain injury among players (highly recommend). Continued reading into the wee hours of the morning, Frontline stories, videos, blogs, articles, captivated by the alarming research and facts: Playing football leads to brain disease. Not only the NFL. Every parent should pay attention. Our children are being damaged, physically and mentally.
Highly recommend reading both books. League of Denialspeaks more toward the football industry, the details, the NFL, and the players. Whereas, Consussion covers similar subjects; however, dives deeper into the man Bennet Omalu, his background, journey, his personal thoughts, comments, and (loved the quotes) scattered throughout the novel in italics— giving you an inside look into the man, his passion, and his mission. He is really quite humorous.
Laskas delivers a gripping story, beautifully told, of one man’s decision to stand up to a multi-billion-dollar colossus with courage. The truth. I have nothing but high regards and respect for Dr. Bennet Omalu, and his tenacity has not gone unnoticed. A special thank you to this incredible man, his talent, and his ongoing work to help others. A special tribute to the author, who stepped out to tell his real story to the world, so eloquently.
The book is always better than the movie, and in this case, hope it lives up to the book. It will change your thinking. A wakeup call for parents, coaches, and administrators. A game-changer.
Bennet Omalu Foundation I am hoping more parents will join this fight for a safer football gamel-- take this matter seriously. Make the NFL accountable, guidelines, with future research. Save the lives of our children, youth, teens, and future adults.
I urge you to visit The Bennet Omalu Foundation. Your donation to the Bennet Omalu Foundation goes directly toward research, care, and treatment of those suffering from traumatic brain injury and CTE. Your support helps raise awareness, fund ambitious medical research, and find cures for CTE and traumatic brain injuries.
Other As of Sept, 2015: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease. A total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players have tested positive for the brain disease at the center of the debate over concussions in football, according to new figures from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on the study of traumatic head injury.
Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they’ve examined and in 79 percent of all football players.