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.