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I've listened to many, many books recently, have come across some pretty terrific ones, but this is the first one I've come to that merits perfect 5-stars on all counts. It's not just about CTE and the NFL; it's about a man on a mission, who he is and how he changes/survives. Yes, there's plenty on Nigeria, civil war, his depression... but that's the story: a scarred and battered man with not only courage, but plain, obstinate pluck. Courage is something we can all hope to be when stuff hits the fan. Pluck? That's Bennet Omalu, pure and simple.
This reads like a mystery, an adventure, a thriller, a brilliant character study. What the NFL did (and what individuals did to claim the discovery as their own) is galling and breathtaking. That Omalu was pretty much defamed, destroyed, discarded is tragic, but the man grew throughout and was/is/remains inspiring.
What makes this book utterly absorbing is Hillary Huber's masterful narration. I'm really, really picky about narration, and I get really twitchy when I come to a book that's heavy on one gender and is read by the other. That the main character from "Concussion" is Nigerian? Holy cow, I thought this would be pretty flawed. But Huber was magnificent, pulled it off not only without a hitch, but brilliantly. I was transfixed and transported.
I HIGHLY recommend this sobering yet exhilarating book. This is a credit that could NOT have been better spent. This was time that could NOT have been better used.
11 of 14 people found this review helpful
If "League of Denial: The NFL Concussions and the Battle for the Truth" (2013) is the story of brain injuries in the NFL, "Concussion (Movie Tie-In Edition)" (2015) is the story of the discoverer of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Bennet Omalu, M.D., M.B.A., MPH, CPE, DABP-AP, CP, FP, NP - and yes, he's that educated.
I've been a conflicted fan of Bennet Omalu, MD, since I listened to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru's "League of Denial." The Fainarus, brothers and highly regarded ESPN investigative reporters, say Omalu has "no filters." In my Audible review of their book called "How to Kill Friends and Influence People" (2013), I describe Omalu as having "the subtlety of Lady Gaga; and the social grace of Sheldon Cooper of "The Big Bang Theory".
After listening to Jeanne Marie Laskas' "Concussion" I realized I didn't even know the half of Omalu's lack of tact. It extends beyond a professional arrogance that Omalu might owe largely to having first worked for publicity hound pathologist-to-the-stars Cyril Wecht, MD (1931-present). Wecht is supremely confident and naturally combative, and Omalu emulated him as an adoptive American father. Omalu was so situation deaf, he gave his future wife, Prema Mutiso, clothes, telling her they were to make her look better. Omalu's lucky she married him anyway.
Omalu's status as an outsider (he is a Nigerian immigrant from a large, wealthy and very well educated family); his unfettered and unconventional approach to science (Americans don't take human brains to their homes for biopsy and long term storage); and his artless misunderstanding of how the NFL works (a multibillion dollar industry is NOT going to want to know there are serious flaws in its business model) are surely why he was able to identify Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in former Pittsburgh Steelers "Iron Mike" Webster.
CTE is brain disease caused by repeated concussive blows to the head. The blows cause tau tangles, and tau tangles are a hallmark of Alzheimer's. Omalu published "Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a National Football League player" in "Neurosurgery" in 2005. The result: he was professionally assailed and eventually banished to Lodi, a charming but remote farming community in the San Joaquin Valley of California.
Even in exile, Omalu continued his work CTE, publishing "Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in an Iraqi war veteran with posttraumatic stress disorder who committed suicide" (2011) in "Neurosurgery Focus." That paper wasn't mentioned in either "League of Denial" or "Concussion", but it's available in the National Institutes of Health's database, PubMed. The problem of Traumatic Brain Injury in soldiers is more fully explored in David J. Morris "The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" (2015). Suffice to say, Omalu's work has application far beyond football.
The support of several attorneys gutsy enough to take on the NFL and of Julian Bailes, MD, a former football player, team doctor, and respected neurosurgeon, helped make sure Omalu didn't remain in obscurity. Omalu's safely in the limelight now and not as vulnerable to the NFL. Omalu's played by Actor Will Smith in the movie this book is based on, "Concussion." I have no idea how close the book is to the movie, since the movie hadn't been released when I wrote this review.
The title of this review is the translation of the Igbo long form of Omalu's last name, Onyemalukwubew.
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14 of 25 people found this review helpful