A collection of stories and philosophical musings that struggles to find a decent balance between narrative and...



A man shares the stories of his life to inspire and help others.

Following up Growing Tall Amidst Obstacles (2014), his debut, Chief Ekenna continues to reflect on moments from his childhood in Nigeria and subsequent career as an attorney in Los Angeles. As with his first book, the influence of Chinua Achebe can be felt in nearly every passage, and Ekenna recognizes him as the source of this book’s title and guiding principle. “If an unseasoned, and weak, and unaccomplished, and unsung, person like me steps up to Achebe’s challenge, and tell[s] my story, that will do a bit ‘more’ in encouraging others,” Ekenna writes. He weaves stories from his life with emails, quotes from other authors and even the lyrics to TV commercial jingles—finding them all equally inspirational and worthy of philosophical discussion. He begins with the death of a dear friend; in facing the senselessness of the situation, he finds all the more reason for everyone to share their stories, great and small, while they have the chance. “If you find the courage to change the way you look at things, the things you look at will find the courage to change,” he writes. Despite his intriguing immigrant background, Ekenna mostly chooses to look at small, specific moments from his life—a banal conversation with a woman on a plane, a car accident on the local news, the memory of a felled tree blocking a road, etc. Each moment is dissected at length and used to derive the life-affirming adages he shares with the world: e.g., “Change is possible. Anything is possible.” Some of these observational stories are engaging—particularly a humorous linguistic mix-up central to his first legal case in Nigeria—but many of them lose their potential impacts by being weighed down by tangents and diversions to other writings. Ekenna intends to show that there is value in every story—a striking point, but not all these stories live up to his ideals.

A collection of stories and philosophical musings that struggles to find a decent balance between narrative and introspection.

Pub Date: July 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1490711072

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2014

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.


A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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