138 of 145 people found the following review helpful
In 2000, a Baltimore newspaper ran a story with the headline, "Local Graduate Named Rhodes Scholar." It was a story about the author, Wes Moore, a young black man who rose from the drug, crime and poverty-stricken streets of the city to attain this prestigious academic honor.
Several months earlier, in the same paper, Mr. Moore had noticed a series of articles about two young black men who killed a Baltimore policeman while robbing a jewelry store. The name of one of the killers struck him: his name was Wes Moore.
This coincidence prompts the author to seek out "the other Wes Moore." He contacts Wes in prison. "How did this happen?" he asks. The question jumpstarts the story of these two young men whose life paths diverged, one into triumph, the other into tragedy.
The author comes to realize that this seemingly complicated story, a too-familiar story that is freighted with societal, economic and racial impact, comes down to a few simple moments in time. "These forks in the road can happen so fast for young boys," he says. "Within months or even weeks, their journeys can take a decisive and possibly irrevocable turn."
I would more specifically pin the divergence on the boys' mothers. The author is born into a two-parent home, both parents college educated, but his father dies when Wes is just three. His mother moves to the Bronx, so that her parents can help provide a stable home life. She works multiple jobs so that she can put her boys in private school. When the author starts to feel the pull of the streets, she packs him off to military school.
The other Wes Moore grows up in a single-parent household of starkly different character. His father is absent and his mother frequently dumps him on friends and family so she can go out clubbing. Although she'd been attending community college, she loses her Pell Grant and simply gives up. Disagreements in the home are handled with beatings. The older brother gets into the drug trade, and all three of them, mother and two sons, bring babies into the world without the stability of marriage. It's no surprise when the other Wes Moore's run-ins with the law begin.
This is a compelling story told with passion and understanding. While the author is compassionate, he also makes clear that he is in no way excusing the other Wes Moore for his heinous deed. Even so, I imagine this is a tough book for the family of the slain policeman to read. If you want another great story of a young black man from Baltimore who succeeds thanks to his determined mother, read Byron Pitts's Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges.
104 of 109 people found the following review helpful
At first glance, this book looks like an interesting read based on an unusual coincidence. A young Baltimore man named Wes Moore, an Army officer who had just graduated from Johns Hopkins and was named a Rhodes Scholar, learned that another young Baltimore man also named Wes Moore had just been sentenced to life in prison without parole for his role in a robbery that resulted in the murder of an off-duty policeman. The first Wes Moore naturally began to wonder about why he had avoided the fate of the second Wes Moore, even though their surroundings and upbringings had been quite similar. So, in a way, this is a "Wow! It could have been me in prison!" story.
That probably would have made for an interesting book, but Moore chose to examine his life and the second Wes Moore's life in parallel with one another in an effort to determine where-- and, more importantly, why-- their fates diverged. That makes this an important book, because it raises a critical question: What makes so many young men-- and particularly black, poor young men raised mostly by their mothers-- choose the drug trade and all of the violence that attends it as a career?
As it turns out, Moore can't answer that question. As he explains, both he and the other Wes Moore were raised at the same time in the same high-poverty, drug- and crime-plagued area. They both began to struggle in school at about the same time. They both had early brushes with the law due to petty crimes at about the same time. However, their lives took dramatically different paths.
Moore never specifically says it, but nonetheless, as one reads his account of their parallel lives, the difference is in the ways that their mothers lived their own lives and reacted to what their sons were doing. Moore's mother was raised by college-educated parents, and she spent her life working and struggling to achieve things for herself and her family. She moved several times in an effort to find stable, safe places for her kids to grow up, and she worked several jobs so she could afford to put her kids into private schools. When it appeared that Moore was going to fall into the thug lifestyle, she sacrificed economically and emotionally to put him into a military school. In short, she simply refused to allow herself or her kids to succumb to the conditions and temptations that surrounded them. In contrast, the other Wes Moore's mother tried to resist those conditions and temptations, but she eventually did succumb to them. She simply gave up. At the same time, unlike the first Wes Moore's mother, she allowed her kids to see violence as an acceptable way to resolve problems in their lives.
In the end, it comes down to forks in the road of time. At several critical points in his youth, the first Wes Moore went down one path, mostly due to the influence of his mother. Unfortunately for the other Wes Moore, there was no one to influence him to take the "right" path, and he chose the easier, more glamorous path of thug culture and the drug trade.
Moore isn't at all smug or self-righteous about how his life compares to that of the other Wes Moore. Nor does he pity the other Wes Moore. That's because there is a difference between reasons and excuses. That is, there are abundant reasons for the choices that the second Wes Moore made and their tragic consequences for himself, his family, and his victims. However, the first Wes Moore clearly doesn't regard any of those reasons as acceptable excuses. Both Wes Moores came to forks in their lives; one of them made-- or was forced to make-- the right choices, and the other one didn't. But they were choices, and they are ultimately responsible for making them.
This is a unique and compelling book. I recommend it most highly.
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2010
This is a very well-written book, with a fascinating story to tell. It's clear that the author has done his research and he demonstrates the reason for "the other" West Moore's life turning out the way it did. What is less excellent is that he does not provide the same level of insight into his own life, particularly in his teen-age and later years. [We get a great deal of detail of his early life and his feelings of displacement, his skipping school, etc.]. Yes, he tells what happened and what he did but he leaves out the guts. For example, he goes from describing the initial days of Valley Forge Military Academy to, suddenly, his position as leader of the 700-strong Cadet Corps. What happened in between? Yes, he names his mentors there but what did HE do? For another example, he attends junior college at VFMA - and, suddenly, he is eligible for Johns Hopkins despite less-than-required grades. OK, it appears that there was some affirmative action here but that would not account for his graduating from Hopkins Phi Beta Kappa (at least, I hope not). What happened to make him such a stellar student?
It's clear by the end of the book that the author is a star - and I'm not giving away anything that is not on the book jacket. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that I really knew him or what made him tick. Nonetheless, I would recommend the book for the extraordinarily detailed and insightful portrait of his and the other Wes' early lives.
136 of 153 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2010
As a forensic psychologist, I was quite intrigued by the premise of the book but ultimately disappointed. It is presented as a study in how two boys with such similar backgrounds could have ended up in such different places - one a Rhode Scholar with a promising career in finance, the other convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The author, Rhode Scholar Wes Moore, makes the argument that his childhood was very similar to that of the other Wes Moore, convicted felon. But from the very first chapter, the vast differences in their upbringing (even genetics) is apparent. It is never hard to understand how their lives ended up so differently - the Rhode Scholar was born into a loving, intact family with 2 college educated parents. Even after the tragic death of his father, his family remains a strong support in his life, with all sorts of relatives offering both financial and emotional support. Contrast that with the other Wes Moore, who is born to a single mother, the second of her children born out of brief, unstable relationships with alcoholic uninvolved fathers. They are worlds apart from the moment of conception but this is not acknowledged or perhaps understood by the author - at one point he acknowledges that having an adult who is invested in your well-being is key to children's healthy development but then doesn't relate this to how different his life was (with the support of an uncle, grandfather and a very strong and involved mother) from the other Wes Moore (whose mother left him unattended from age 8 and whose primary influence was a criminally involved older brother).
In the end, I was left with the impression that this was a vanity project for the author. The sections about his life get longer and longer while the sections about the other Wes Moore get shorter and shorter. In the epilogue, the author devotes several pages to listing his achievements in life - these are never connected to other events or analyzed in any way - it's simply a list of things he has done. An impressive list certainly, but it offers nothing to the book. The book also seems to be the author's attempt to establish "street cred" - he seems almost desperate to make clear that he grew up poor and disadvantaged (even though he and his siblings went to an expensive private school). It comes off as false and self-serving. For example, his claims that they both had brushes with the law as children overlooks the type and severity of those - the author gets a lecture from a cop at age 11 for spray painting a building while the other Wes Moorewas arrested at age 8 for threatening another child with a knife.
If you want to understand why these two men ended up in such different places, it's not difficult at all. There is a fundamental difference between being raised by a single mother because your father died of illness versus because your father has no interest in you and would not recognize you. There is a fundamental difference between mothers who have children at age 16 in the context of a casual relationship and those who wait until after marriage. There is a fundamental difference between a family who rallies around its children, pushes them to succeed and takes action when one of the children is having problems and a single mother who leaves her child alone or in the care of a drug dealing brother who teaches him to fight.
62 of 74 people found the following review helpful
I'm not one who usually reads "uplifting" true stories with words like "hope" prominently featured in the title or subtitle, but I gave this one a chance for three reasons. First of all, some of it takes place in neighboring Baltimore in the mid-'90s, which is interesting to anyone, like me, who loved the HBO series The Wire. Secondly, at lot of the kids who come into the library I work at are in the same position as the two young Wes Moores described in the book -- they might succumb to the call of the street, or they might not. Finally, it's short and quick -- if I'm going to read a book like this, I don't want it to be padded out to reach 300 page ideal (note that the final 80 pages of the book are a list of organizations across the country that work to improve the lives of disadvantaged youth).
The premise of the book is that two young black men with the same name, coming up in roughly the same area, ended up in very different places in life. One is serving a life sentence for his role in a jewelry store heist in which a guard was killed, and the other ended up Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow. The book came out of the latter one's desire to trace their histories and try and figure out why his life has worked out, while the other Wes's hasn't. He tells their life stories chronologically, alternating from himself to the incarcerated Wes, laying out the choices they made, and the context for those choices. He does this efficiently and fairly evocatively, managing to convey what goes on inside the heads of boys and young men without being overly analytical or judgemental. However, at the end, I was rather shocked to see him write the following of his grand investigation: "What made the difference?...The truth is that I don't know."
Well, any reader of the book could tell him -- the difference is class. Both his parents were college educated, his mother was more involved in his life and had vastly greater financial resources to devote to him, and he had high-achieving siblings. That's pretty much it. When the eventually-successful Wes made some poor decisions as a kid, his mom was able to ask her parents for the money to put him first in private school, and eventually in an elite military academy. Once he prospered in that environment, doors started opening for him, as the network of connections started helping him up the ladder. The other Wes's mother had no financial or familial support to draw upon, and eventually lost control of her son, who main male role model was his drug-dealing half-brother.
So, ultimately, there's not much of a lesson here, nor any kind of revelatory strategy for helping young black men. But it is a very instructive case study on how class mechanisms work in America, and what they mean in a tangible, concrete sense.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2010
The book is described as an analysis of the different life choices made by two people named Wes Moore from the same neighborhood. It is just not that complicated and I thought the book lacked real insight and analysis. It was heavy on reciting the author's life story.
Surprise...the Wes Moore whose family (mother and grandparents) were involved in the life of their child turns out to be a great success and the Wes Moore whose father is no where to be found and whose mother is fighting her own demons ends up in trouble. I think the story is primarily about the support and attention a child gets while they are growing up and how this frames their decision making process and prepares them to fully exploit their talents than the actual decisions the young child makes....after all, how many poor kids can "decide" to go to a suburban military boarding school.
Anyway, I would not want to discourage someone from reading this. The author is obviously a talented, passionate person and this book is an easy, quick read....it will force you to be reflective about a lot of issues of the day as our nation prioritzes the kind of support we give our kids and the families that are raising them.
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2010
I was very excited for this book, only to be let down. Hugely.
Wes Moore (the "successful" one) spends a lot of the book describing WHAT happens, without exploring WHY things might have transpired the way that they did. The fact is, the Wes Moore in prison never, ever could have had the same story as the "successful" Wes Moore, and it is very unlikely that the "successful" Wes Moore could have ended up in prison like the "unsuccessful" Wes Moore.
Why not? The author came from a family with two successful, college educated parents. While they didn't have a lot of money, there were a lot of other social forces in play that prevented him from taking the path of the "Other Wes Moore," whose mother was uneducated. This was largely in part because of Reaganomics- it would have been really interesting for the author to research into this topic some more, maybe add an opinion in there, instead of treating it as something that she should have been able to "overcome." He also ignored how the connections he made in his rich schools could have helped him achieve some of his accomplishments- not to take away from them, but it really showed that it's not what you know, it's who you know. Who did the Other Wes Moore know? His older brother who is now also in prison with him.
Mostly, this book seemed like a way to
1. give the author street cred- I know I'm a super successful financial adviser, but listen! I'm from the hood! I tagged a building once! Barf.
2. brag about his accomplishments.
Decent book but if you've read the inside cover, you've basically read the book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2011
About five weeks ago, I attended a "Building Leaders" conference in Richmond, where I was able to hear Wes Moore speak about his book and the major lessons he has learned in his lifetime. Wes was one of the most charismatic and intriguing speakers I have ever seen, so it was not surprising that I was simply unable to put his book down. Throughout the entire book, I was consistently engaged in his thought-provoking anecdotes and moving stories of the crime and violence prevalent in inner-city neighborhoods. Most importantly, though, he caused me to step back and re-evaluate the way I view the privileges I have and opportunities I am presented with every day.
The way that "The Other Wes Moore" is set up is for the purpose of slowly building up to the final and crucial points he wishes to make, which I will mention later on. He opens up in his introduction discussing the basis for his book: how he came from a poor, rough background living on the streets of Baltimore and the Bronx, but with the support of his mother and others advocating for a brighter future for him, he eventually graduated from Valley Forge military academy, John Hopkins University and graduate school at Oxford University with the prestigious acknowledgement as a Rhodes Scholar and became a second lieutenant in the Army in Afghanistan. In contrast, there was another Wes Moore who similarly grew up not far from where he used to live in Baltimore and lived a troubled teenage life, but ended up getting in deeper trouble and serving a life sentence in prison for robbery and first-degree murder charges. The rest of the book was spent switching back and forth between both Weses, telling stories about their childhoods and the major determining events that led up to their fates--one as a prisoner, and one as a successful journalist, father, and social figure. He ended the book with discussing how to pinpoint where both Weses split in their fork in the road and managed to end up in completely different places--this part is what troubled me the most--and closed with a "Call to Action" section, with lists of organizations and ways to help better the future of our country's youth.
Moore's conclusion on what exactly split both Weses' fates was not what the reader wants to hear, and he probably realizes that. He gave a similar answer at both the conference and in his book: that he just doesn't know. At that point, I had to pause and set down my Kindle out of utter shock. How is it that we can't figure out a single driving force that leads to success or failure? And how can we sit back and allow this world of drug, crime, and violence to continue without knowing how to guide it in the right direction? Now, I will give the author this: he breaks down the complex system of the drug activity in cities for us from the runners, hitters, and suppliers, to the game of hiding from parents and "jakes" (police), to the big money and high-profile, violent deals. It becomes obvious how easy it is to get sucked into, and seemingly impossible to get out of. But the author did, so why couldn't the other Wes Moore?
Now I won't ruin the book, because it is so worth reading that you need to experience the deep stories and important narratives from reading it first-hand. However, I need to make sure that you realize the true point to his book before delving into it, which I have noticed many other reviews have confused. It is not to tell us exactly how to move the youth towards success, point out the single deciding moment in which both men's paths diverged, or for the author to indulge on his success and scorn the other Wes Moore's decisions/ultimate failure. Instead, Wes Moore longs to make readers thankful for our privileges as Americans, learn to seize onto every opportunity we are presented with and not let one pass by because it could be the biggest improvement of our future, and to highlight ways that we can control ours and others' fates as self-motivators and mentors. Wes talks again and again about mentors, family, and friends he had in life that helped guided him in the right direction. He also notes the way he regained control over his future, instead of letting his low expectations or his environment determine it. As a reader, all you have to do is remember these important themes Wes includes in this book so that you enter with an open mindset and a heart ready to accept a powerful message.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I picked out this book because of the title and the concept: two men born in the same city at almost the same time with the same names...and how their lives went in entirely different directions. If it weren't a true story, it would make a great premise for fiction. The fact that it is actually a true story gives it more punch...but also limits it somewhat.
Until I caught on to the fact that the author is the Wes Moore writing in the first person while the "other" Wes Moore is being written about in the third person, I was slightly confused. But that confusion cleared up almost immediately. Actually, it was a brilliant and logical way to differentiate between the two characters.
While the author started out almost at the bottom and worked his way up to where he is now -- Rhodes Scholar, Army officer in Afghanistan, paratrooper, Special Assistant to secretary Condoleezza Rice at the State Department as a White House Fellow, investment banker, etc., etc. -- the titular "other" Wes Moore started out at about the same position, near the bottom, and worked his way down, if that's at all possible, to where he apparently still is, in prison for life. (Why he's in prison for life is beyond me. Yes, he participated in an armed robbery in which an off-duty policeman was killed. But it was Moore's older brother who pulled the trigger and who was also incarcerated for life, though his life ended earlier than expected from illness. Why is Wes Moore still there? Whatever...)
The ending of the book caught me up short. With over 60 pages left in the book, the saga suddenly is wrapped up: a quick summation of what befell each of the main characters in the book and that's it. What follows is a brief afterword by Tavis Smiley (a name that meant nothing to me, since I don't watch TV), and then page upon page of a list of organizations that can help people in the same position as the two Wes Moores. That's fine, but I seriously doubt if your average Wes Moore -- especially one more or less destined to follow the path of our "other" Wes Moore -- would be reading a book such as this.
Which brings us to the final point. Who is this book for? Certainly not "The Other Wes Moore," who probably wouldn't be inclined to read anything of this nature. I did enjoy the book very much, but I'm not anyone who would benefit from reading it. I almost wish, then, that it were actually a work of fiction and that some reputable filmmaker would buy the rights to it and turn it into a wonderful motion picture. (I bet the "other" Wes Moores out there would go to see it!)
Incidentally, this is the first Vine pre-publication book I've read that hasn't been riddled with typos. The editor(s) did a fine job of proofing it before I got to it!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2010
Wes Moore was born in Maryland in 1978 but currently works for Citigroup in New York City. His life path was pretty interesting. At three, he saw his father die in front of him after his father was misdiagnosed at a local area hospital. His mother moved the family around a bit and sent her son to a private school. While there, he failed out because of behavioral issues and non-attendance, even though his two sisters did fairly well. He was then sent to a military academy in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with honors and as a regimental commander, even though he attempted to run away four times in his first week there. Wes eventually went on to college and became a Rhodes Scholar.
As Wes was preparing to attend Oxford University in 2000, Wes learned of another man named Wes Moore who also, coincidentally, grew up in Maryland. In fact, the two had lived in the same neighborhood, and the "other" Wes Moore was two years older. The two had never met. The "other" Wes Moore was starting a life prison bid after being convicted of murdering an off duty police officer during the course of a bank robbery. So the Wes on the outside of the prison wrote a letter to the Wes Moore that was behind the bars. Wes Moore, the author, had burning questions that he wanted answers - how did two men with the same name from the same neighborhood with similar backgrounds end up on such markedly different paths in their lives?
This book is told in alternating sections, which I guess is effective in detailing the differences between the two men. However, there is no passion - it's simply a re-telling. The author talks about the works of Malcolm X and how he was inspired by him as well as Colin Powell. However, none of the passion that those men wrote with or even an ounce of their skill is apparent in Mr. Moore's literary capabilities. I think that the real value in this book is the question that was asked and the questions that remain unanswered - how do two people from similar backgrounds end up taking such different paths? What social forces are in play to make people choose to do one thing over another? What happens when the village cannot raise the child because it isn't equipped to do so?