Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 11/24/2015
My Rating: 5 Stars +
Top 10 Books of 2015
Featured Weekend Read Nov 6-8
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Will Smith, Concussion is the riveting, unlikely story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who made one of the most significant medical discoveries of the twenty-first century, a discovery that challenges the existence of America's favorite sport and puts Omalu in the crosshairs of football's most powerful corporation: the NFL. In September of 2002, in a dingy morgue in downtown Pittsburgh, a young forensic neuropathologist named Bennet Omalu picked up a scalpel and made a discovery that would rattle America in ways he never intended. Omalu was new to America, chasing the dream, a deeply spiritual man escaping the wounds of civil war in Nigeria. The body on the slab in front of him belonged to a fifty-year-old named Mike Webster—aka “Iron Mike”—a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the greatest to ever play the game. After retiring in 1990, Webster had suffered a dizzyingly steep decline. Toward the end of his life, he was living out of his van, Tasering himself to relieve his chronic pain, and fixing his rotting teeth with Super Glue. How did this happen? Omalu asked himself. How did a young man like Mike Webster end up like this? The search for answers would change Omalu's life forever and put him in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful corporations in America: the National Football League. What Omalu discovered in Mike Webster's brain—proof that his mental deterioration was no accident, but a disease, caused by relentless blows to the head, that could affect everyone playing the game—was the one truth the NFL would do anything to keep secret. Taut, gripping, and gorgeously told, Concussion is the stirring true story of one unlikely man's courageous decision to stand up to a multibillion-dollar colossus bent on silencing him, and to tell the world the truth.
A special thank you to Random House and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
TOP Non-Fiction BOOKS OF 2015! 5 Stars+ Award-winning literary journalist, Jeanne Marie Laskas returns following Hidden America, with her unique talent and style, uncovering real people, their obstacles, triumphs, and raw human emotions--written with wit, sensitivity, and compassion. A well-researched, gripping story, relevant to today’s top controversial headlines. Landing on my Top 30 Books for 2015, CONCUSSION, is brilliantly written---an inside view and compelling journey of thirty-four year-old Dr. Bennet Omalu. An extraordinary man, an up close and personal story. His version, told by Laskas of the events, the unraveling--leading up to, and the subsequent fallout after his astonishing discovery of CTE, 2002; and ultimately the fight against one of American's largest giants. The injustice. The cover-up. Greed. The NFL’s denial. Their attempt to bury research and science. How the scenario played out, both personally and professionally through his eyes. CTE, An intriguing medical mystery. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. The disease was previously called dementia pugilistica (DP), i.e. "punch-drunk", as it was initially found in those with a history of boxing. The brain has always been mysterious. An organ which deteriorates over time with damage. The damage is not apparent immediately. Cannot outwardly be seen. The progression and the dangerous stages; earth-shattering! The men who tried to reach out for help, until it was too late. Laskas re-creates heart-felt scenes and humble beginnings of Bennett from the villages in Nigeria to his hopes and dreams of a life in America, where everything back home was about busting loose from the pettiness, the corruption, and the wicked tendencies of man. Ironically, as the book opens America, 2008--approaching forty years of age, Omalu is stuck in a boiling hot courtroom in Pittsburgh, where he feels like everything is once again about bursting loose from more of the same. Now in America. Flashing back to 2002, and earlier times, to after the discovery of CTE, having been run out of the town of Pittsburgh—a place where he used to live. A place where he made his mark. His discovery. His safe haven. The home he and his wife were building for their family- a house now complete, sitting empty—as is his work, and reputation—now the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County in California. Once again reliving this nightmare. The defendant, his former boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht, the man who gave him a chance. His American seventy-six year old father figure. He is forced to testify against him. A religious Christian, and a devout Catholic, Omalu was born in Nnokwa, Nigeria in September 1968, the sixth of seven siblings. He was born during the Nigerian Civil War, which caused his family to flee from their home in the predominately Igbo village of Enugwu-Ukwu in southeastern Nigeria. Returning two years after his birth.
A close knit family and highly respected in the village, Omalu’s mother was a seamstress and his father an orphan, who believed education equaled freedom-- excelled as a civil mining engineer for the Nigerian government and community leader in Enugwu-Ukwu. The family name, Omalu, is a shortened form of the surname, Onyemalukwubew, which translates to “if you know, come forth and speak.” Bennet meaning “blessed”. Life is the greatest gift of all. Dr. Bennet Omalu will indeed change the world with his discovery. However, as all great men, throughout our history. He is misunderstood. Hopefully this book will serve as an outreach to others, to educate. Highly intelligent, Bennet started school at three years of age, high school and college years before others his age. Due to being sheltered, shielded, and protected he was naïve in many social areas. He did not want to see dirty. He had a pristine sense of idealism in his virginal mind. He did not like political strife. He dreamed of being an airline pilot, traveling the world with excitement. Far from his mind, being a doctor. His father had other ideas for his son’s future. Everyone is their family was successful. He would make his family proud. All of the Omalu children would go on to succeed in their professions. He would go to the US, the land of perfection and excellence. America: A land where mankind is at its best. The land of milk and honey. However, he will soon learn, a shattered dream. One being racism. Injustice. How could a Christian nation founded on Christian principles perpetuate such evil over centuries? Why so many blacks in American did not become educated? There was something wrong with America. He would soon learn more evil with an example of one of the worst David vs. Goliath battles- going up against the NFL. He does not understand. From medical school in Nigeria, six years, then a clinical internship, mandated paramilitary service, three years doctoring in a rural village---to America; the research scholarship, the second medical degree at Columbia University. He chose forensic pathology as a specialty. A specialist in death - why, and how death occurs. Board certified in four separate areas of pathology—anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology. Now in the courtroom, he is finishing up two more degrees for a total of seven. A master’s in public health in epidemiology and a master’s in business administration.
Being an expert in death would seem to be a counter intuitive move for a physician, a person committed to saving lives. How he ended up doing autopsies for a living-- None of this had been in his plan for his life. God had a bigger purpose.
To Bennet, a young forensic pathologist on the threshold of his career, Wecht embodied a particularly glamorous American dream, and that’s who Bennet wanted to study and work with…the reason for coming to Pittsburgh. Seven years he worked for Wecht, teaching him how to project self-confidence like an American. How to be ruthless when it came to local politics. From buying the tailored suits, the Mercedes, and all the things he needed to survive and compete; having to overcome being black. He learned from Wecht, the Pittsburgh’s medical examiner, he taught him about life, how to dress, build confidence, attitude – Wecht was famous, inserting himself in virtually every famous case of his day—he respected him. Bennett was diligent, taking work home. Laying out brains, studying them on his dining room table. Wecht allowed him freedom, to explore, to create; yet sometimes putting his name on his work, he never once complained. He was paying his dues. He was promoting himself. Learning lessons about the harsh reality of American individualism. Largely because of Wecht’s confidence in him, Bennett became a brain expert in the first place. The field of forensic neuropathology—the study of the brain to determine cause of death. He began examining brains closer. The day his life changed. A brain came to him to examine. Mike Webster, the NFL player who died. He had no idea what a Steeler was, until he encountered Mike’s body in the morgue in 2002. That was the beginning of a relationship. He was not caught up in this all consuming American sport. The one with repeated head trauma. He was asked to examine his brain. The day, the moment -- which would forever change the course of his life as well as thousands, with the discovery of CTE.
Football and Brain Damage He grew to love Mike. His spirit. His soul. He talked to him. He wants to help him with answers. He changed his life in more ways than he could possible imagine. Bennet made a discovery in Mike’s brain that would help people forgive Webster for turning into a madman the way he did—and would go on to rattle America in ways he never intended. With his education, his refugee background, Bennet saw much of his own story in Wecht’s. With his own depression, he relies on his faith. He becomes a close friend with Father Carmen, his love of God, his prayer group, where he shared his concern of racial unrest. He has an opportunity to prove his diligence when the Kimbell trial begins in 2002 when a man is set free after years in prison, falsely accused. He pays attention to details. He meets Prema, his future wife. She is afraid for him. He wants answers for Mike, his family, and all the NFL players.
“Living people mess you up. Living people are messy. Dead people are clean. There is no politics with dead people. With dead people what you see is what you get and you can keep looking and looking, and get more, and once you look inside the brain you find the story is beautiful in the way all things are infinite are beautiful. Holy. Every dead person is a controlled story, a distinct narrative revealing itself on the edge of a scalpel and through the lens of a microscope. It’s honest. It’s linear.”
Big Tobacoo and Big Football. A whistleblower. He soon learns more about the real evil cruel world. Football. Exploitation. Dumped. Complications. The deficiencies in society. They will bury scientific research. Discredit. Politics. Possibly he did not belong in this society. Everyone is insulting his work. He is not included in decisions. A life he wanted. He became unsettled, depressed, and angry. He strives for perfection. What about the football players? Who is protecting them? The NFL is not excited about his findings? Retraction? His work? Now society, the NFL, the media - brushing him aside. He is like Iron Mike. Hall of Famer. Dead at age fifty. No longer needed. He soon learned Mike’s determination, sheer will, insane training regimen, the extremes, and the abuse to his body, the best center in the NFL. Then they were done with him. He had to retire. From rage, his memory. His mind. Paranoia, dementia, delusion, addictions. Money gone. Homeless. Using a Taser to sleep. How did a fifty year old man become crazy? Repeated blows to the head. Mike was only the beginning. More to follow. Young, and old. More wives and families left behind. Suicides. Men driven to end their lives. How can he save these men before this happens again? Does all football players have this disease? WOW! A riveting, powerful human tale—and what a storyteller! If you want a story told, Laskas is the ideal choice. I had to smile at the reference to Michael Jackson. Having just finished MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson,- can see the relation to both men, perfectionist and passionate about their work. Misunderstood. I found myself bookmarking so many pages; engrossing and absorbing, CONCUSSION reads like a work of ficition, versus non-fiction. I could not put it down. In years past, have been primarily a reader of fiction; however, this past year, have been introduced to so many really talented non-fiction authors, with interesting topics, I plan to devote more time to this area in 2016. An amazing journey when Jeanne Marie Laskas first met the young forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2009, while reporting a story for GQ, would go on to inspire the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, coming Christmas Day, 2015.View Movie Trailer One of the most riveting, most significant medical discoveries of the twenty-first century, a discovery that challenges the existence of America’s favorite sport and puts Omalu in the crosshairs of football’s most powerful corporation: the NFL. Will Smith is the perfect cast for Omalu and looking forward to the upcoming movie. My hopes for continued awareness and changes. Compared to the David vs. Goliath giants; the tobacco industry (1990s)cancer, environmental contamination, and pharmaceutical industry. Fraud. Cover-Ups. Greed. Tactics to lessen the findings and importance. From attorneys, a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, lawsuits, specialists, opportunists, families, those who shut him out, attempts to discredit his work, not giving him credit for his discovery, the ultimate denial. Immediately following read the author’s Game Brain an article written in 2009 for GQ— Bennet Omalu’s forgotten piece of the story, and inspiration behind the book CONCUSSION. Listened to the audiobook of League of Denial, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, a comprehensive account of the history of the NFL mishandling of the crisis of traumatic brain injury among players (highly recommend). Continued reading into the wee hours of the morning, Frontline stories, videos, blogs, articles, captivated by the alarming research and facts: Playing football leads to brain disease. Not only the NFL. Every parent should pay attention. Our children are being damaged, physically and mentally. Highly recommend reading both books. League of Denial speaks more toward the football industry, the details, politics, the NFL, and the players. Whereas, Concussion
addresses similar subjects; however, dives deeper into the man responsible for the discovery, Bennet Omalu, his background, journey, his personal thoughts, comments, and (loved the quotes) scattered throughout the novel in italics— giving you an inside look into the man, his passion, and his mission. He is really quite humorous. Laskas delivers a gripping story, beautifully told, of one man’s decision to stand up to a multi-billion-dollar colossus with courage. The truth. I have nothing but high regards and respect for Dr. Bennet Omalu, and his tenacity has not gone unnoticed. A special thank you to this incredible man, his talent, and his ongoing work to help others. A special tribute to the author, who stepped out to tell his real story to the world, so eloquently.
The book is always better than the movie, and in this case, hope it lives up to the book. It will change your thinking. People need to know the risks. Make choices. A wakeup call. A game-changer.
As a mom, raising 2 sons, and 3 stepsons playing football from ages 8-20+ (plus wrestling, basketall, golf, tennis, etc). Football- the biggest concern. My two played from pop warner through junior high, high school and then football college scholarship. One a lineman. A huge concern. If I knew what I know today, would not have allowed my sons to participate in such a deadly game. I do not want my 6 yrs old grandson subjected to the sport. I believe after the book and the movie, people will take notice of the damage it can cause. More people have to take a stand and view the consequences more seriously. Thank you for this incredible discovery, and sharing this story to all Americans.
Game Brain The Article that Inspired the Book
SAW THE MOVIE TODAY - Fantastic!
Will Smith was a perfect Omalu! My favs: Mike Webster (David Morse) Will Smith (Dr. Bennet Omalu), Alex Baldwin (Dr. Julian Bailes), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Prema), Albert Brooks (Dr. Cyril Wecht)
Coming Christmas Day 2015: The Movie
“A gripping medical mystery and a dazzling portrait of the young scientist no one wanted to listen to . . . a fabulous, essential read.” —Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks “The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu's battle against the NFL is classic David and Goliath stuff, and Jeanne Marie Laskas—one of my favorite writers on earth—makes it as exciting as any great courtroom or gridiron drama. A riveting, powerful human tale—and a master class on how to tell a story.” —Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit “Bennet Omalu forced football to reckon with head trauma. The NFL doesn't want you to hear his story, but Jeanne Marie Laskas makes it unforgettable. This book is gripping, eye-opening, and full of heart.” —Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones
About the Author
Jeanne Marie Laskas is the author of seven books, including the forthcoming Concussion (Penguin Random House, 2015). Based on her 2009 GQ article “Game Brain,”
Concussion is also soon to be amajor motion motion picture starring Will Smith. Her other works include Hidden America (Putnam, 2012), as well as the award-winning trilogy of memoirs: Fifty Acres and Poodle (Bantam Dell, 2000), The Exact Same Moon (Bantam Dell, 2003), and Growing Girls (Bantam Dell, 2006). Most of her longform journalism now appears in GQ, where she is a correspondent writing about everything from concussions to migrant workers to hit-men.
Formerly a contributing editor at Esquire, and a weekly columnist (“Significant Others”) at The Washington Post Magazine, she has been writing for national magazines for twenty years, with work appearing in The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Allure, Ladies Home Journal, and many others. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Best American Magazine Writing 2008 and Best American Sportswriting 2000, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012. She has won more than a dozen Gold Quill awards for Excellence in Journalism, and her piece on coal mining, “Underworld,” was a finalist for the 2007 National Magazine Awards.
Her earliest essays and features are compiled in The Balloon Lady and Other People I Know (Duquesne, 1996). Laskas serves as Director of The Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches creative writing, and she lives on a horse farm in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Website Twitter Facebook
Bennet Omalu Foundation I am hoping more parents will join this fight for added safelty with football-- take this matter seriously. Make the NFL accountable, guidelines, with future research. Save the lives of our children, youth, teens, and future adults. I urge you to visit The Bennet Omalu Foundation. Your donation to the Bennet Omalu Foundation goes directly toward research, care, and treatment of those suffering from traumatic brain injury and CTE. Your support helps raise awareness, fund ambitious medical research, and find cures for CTE and traumatic brain injuries. Read More As of Sept, 2015: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease. A total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players have tested positive for the brain disease at the center of the debate over concussions in football, according to new figures from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on the study of traumatic head injury. Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they’ve examined and in 79 percent of all football players. Read More