A memoir that would have radiated greater power as a long-form magazine article.

Still in his early 20s, Wood chronicles his arduous upbringing as a black male, including his 15 minutes of fame (so far) while a college student.

Growing up, the author developed impressive intelligence and a dedicated character, but he had to battle a controlling, abusive mother suffering from bipolar disorder, his parents’ divorce, and struggles to pay for an elite education. The detailed accounting of his upbringing comprises more than three-quarters of the narrative; the renown does not arrive until Page 200. Wood was a student at Williams College in rural Massachusetts. Upset at the closed-minded nature of college students when given the opportunity to hear campus speakers sometimes labeled racist, sexist, homophobic, or politically extremist, the author became involved in the initiative Uncomfortable Learning. Some of the speakers he wanted to invite faced a veto from the Williams administration. Others, such as Charles Murray, were able to deliver their presentations and then engage in dialogue with the students. Wood received widespread national media attention as a result, and he is currently Robert L. Bartley fellow at the Wall Street Journal. The early part of the book, a mostly chronological account of Wood’s challenging life, offers pointed insight into the struggles of growing up black among often wealthy whites. However, the circumstances of Wood’s daily existence don’t engage with enough universal truths about race, financial struggles, and other similar topics. The author, who writes well, is a sympathetic narrator, and he has unquestionably displayed an impressive work ethic and devotion to free speech. But after the insight offered through his personal history, the analysis tails off, and his father, one of the most intriguing characters in the story, is somewhat of a spectral presence. As he continues to mature, expect Wood to grow as a writer and further the dialogues he sketches here.

A memoir that would have radiated greater power as a long-form magazine article.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4244-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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