The Bookworm: Before ‘Concussion’; a history lesson

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Truth Doesn’t Have a Side”

By Dr. Bennet Omalu (with Mark Tabb)

c. 2017, Zondervan

$24.99, $31 Canada; 304 pages

Everyone you meet has an effect on your life. Somehow, in some way, others change you: a stranger’s smile lifts your mood. Kindness makes you happy. An injustice spurs you to action, making you someone else’s change. Clearly, as in the new memoir “Truth Doesn’t Have a Side” by Dr. Bennet Omalu (with Mark Tabb), a chance meeting could alter your path.

“Truth Doesn’t Have a Side” author Dr. Bennet Omalu.
“Truth Doesn’t Have a Side” by Dr. Bennet Omalu (with Mark Tabb).

Sometime toward the end of 2002, Bennett Omalu met Mike Webster. More specifically, Omalu met autopsy A02-5214. That was Webster. It was a meeting that Omalu later said he wished had never happened …

Omalu was born in the midst of a bombing raid on the small Nigerian town in which his parents had taken refuge. Civil war didn’t last long but it left its mark: Omalu says he was always physically small for his age, due to wartime malnutrition, but it didn’t affect his mental abilities. Omalu’s father, a self-made man with a college degree, insisted that his children become educated; Omalu started school at age three.

He was an introverted child, a dreamer, and “lazy,” but Omalu knew he could get good grades if he wanted them. The problem was, he didn’t want them, until an older sister enticed him with money. His grades rose and he became a star student who dreamed of becoming a pilot – but Omalu’s father had other ideas. He wanted another doctor in the family.

Unwilling to disappoint his father, Omalu entered medical school at age 16, with an eye toward going to America. Med school revealed to him that he was uncomfortable with caring for living patients so, by the time he emigrated, he’d shifted his focus to a career in research. Later, he reached for a fellowship in pathology.

His first autopsy was unsettling, he says, until he recognized the humanity of the remains before him. As he does even today, he asked the deceased to help him understand. And then he met Mike Webster …

So you’ve seen the movie, “Concussion.” You may’ve even read the book. So why read this one, written by the guy the other book and film are about?

If you’ve always felt that the book is better than the movie, you know why: in “Truth Doesn’t Have a Side,” author Bennet Omalu (with Mark Tabb) offers his own tale, first-hand, with a different focus. Omalu tells readers more about himself, explaining how faith protects and drives him, and laying his success at God’s feet. This, along with his detailed story, gives a clearer picture of the man who confronted the NFL.

And that’s where the second half of this book takes you: to Omalu’s discovery, his opinions and conclusions, and his battle for recognition, both in findings and out. It’s this second half that may disturb football fans. It may shock parents. It could change your weekends.

If you can handle that, then grab this elegantly graceful, informative bio-wrapped-in-science and have a seat. “Truth Doesn’t Have a Side” is good, so settle in and meet your next favorite book.

Bonus read

For another side of the subject, check out “Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope” by John Saunders.

“Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope” by John Saunders.

It’s a story of football and depression – something, coincidentally, that Omalu says he suffered from, too.

Together, these books will have you glued to your seat.

“The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For”

By David McCullough

c. 2017, Simon & Schuster

$25, $34 Canada; 176 pages

One nation, under God, indivisible. Those words deeply mean something to you. Maybe you’ve fought for them. Maybe you say them daily. You see the news and they leap to mind, whether you’re optimistic for the future or pessimistic about current events. And in the book “The American Spirit” by David McCullough, you’ll see how the former better describes our nation.

“The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For” by David McCullough.

For the past 50 years or so, author and historian McCullough has given many speeches. He’s been honored to talk to graduating classes, business organizations, and politicians throughout that time, and he says he often returns home knowing that “the American spirit [is] still at work.”

Yes, we’ve always been divided – and united.

We were united by people like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Manasseh Cutler, men about whom much has been written. And yet, says McCullough, there were other “giants” in history that we never hear much about: Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Speaker Joe Martin, Margaret Chase Smith, Frank Church, the list is endless.

“How can we know who we are and where we are headed,” asks McCullough, “if we don’t know where we have come from?”

Knowing why our cities grew, and why they were important explains us in better detail; take “Pitt from Pittsburgh and the loss would be devastating,” McCullough says, as an example. We also should study the “energy” of the documents created by the Founding Fathers -- and about those fathers, we must remember that they were “living men” and fallible humans. They wrote with their reputations in mind, “staking their lives on what they believed … ”

We are a country that values education. We mostly “want to belong to something larger than ourselves.” We are a nation made of people born here, and around the world. We are stewards of and teachers for historic sites. And “When bad news is riding high … ” says McCullough, “ … and some keep crying that the country is going to the dogs, remember it’s always been going to the dogs in the eyes of some, and that 90 percent, or more, of the people are good people … ”

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“We all know that. Let’s all pitch in. And never lose heart.”

The news makes you want to scream? Come over here and join the club – but bring your copy of “The American Spirit.” There’s a lot we can learn together.

We can do that, says author David McCullough, by reading history to get a bigger picture of the arms-wide-open optimism shared by America’s brightest citizens. Here, in this anthology of speeches, McCullough displays unparalleled storytelling skills with tales of those preachers, politicians, visionaries, men, and women whose work meant everything to a growing nation. It’s hard not to get caught up in McCullough’s eagerness to know those tales, and it’s hard not to be stirred by them.

This book is small but its message is huge so, if you’re a student of current events, give it the introspection and time it demands. Do that, and “The American Spirit” could pledge for you a new outlook.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.