Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Rise - A Soldier, A Dream, and A Promise Kept" by Daniel Rodriguez and Joe Layden

A week ago the Clemson Tigers came here to Boston to play the Boston College Eagles football team.  Wearing #83 on his orange Clemson jersey was wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez.  Rodriquez, with the able assistance of Joe Layden, tells his story of transition from the battlefield to the football field in "Rise - A Soldier, A Dream, and A Promise Kept."

What makes this book a compelling read is how transparent Rodriguez is in telling the good, the bad and the ugly of his life.  Library shelves are groaning under the weight of the hundreds of memoirs that have been written in the past few years by warriors returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  To gain mind share in an overcrowded market, it takes something unique.  This book qualifies on several levels.  How many former enlisted Army infantryman have returned to play Division I while tipping the scales at 175 pounds and standing 5' 8"?  And in the telling of their story, how many authors have been so forthcoming about their high school academic failures, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and running a black market operation in smuggled booze in Iraq?

A particularly riveting section of the book describes a battle in which the remote outpost where Rodriguez and his friends patrolled in Afghanistan was over-run by hundreds of Taliban in an unusually well coordinated attack.  He lost close friends that day, and his promise to one of those fallen friends was part of what helped Rodriguez to push through the darkest days after returning home to Virginia, deciding not to commit suicide, and getting himself in shape to be able to walk onto the football team at Clemson.  The author gives lavish praise and thanks to his Army comrades, and coaches, mentors and role models that have helped make him the man that he is today.

The book is an inspiration to anyone battling demons that would seek to destroy.  Mr. Rodriguez scores a touchdown with this memoir.



Review of "Mayor For A New America" by Thomas M. Menino and Jack Beatty - a Timely Memoir and Valedictory

I found this book, "Mayor For A New America," to be surprisingly inspiring and informative.  Over the years, my opinion of Mayor Thomas M. Menino has been on a steady upward trajectory.  Initially, I was bothered by his notorious inarticulate speech patterns and malapropisms.  I remember opining to many of my friends: "I cannot believe that a world class city like Boston keeps electing such an unimpressive public figure as its Mayor."  A few years ago I was a guest at a luncheon hosted by Red Sox legend David Ortiz - our beloved Big Papi.  In a moment of private conversation with Papi, I said: "I am not sure you really appreciate how popular you are in this town.  You could easily run for Mayor, and you already speak better English than our current Mayor." 

Tom Menino's actions spoke much more loudly and clearly than his verbal pronouncements.  In this valedictory memoir, co-written with Jack Beatty, who had earlier written a biography of former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley,  Menino does not shy away from addressing his reputation as "Mayor Mumbles."  He quotes his mentor, Tip O,Neill, "If you have a deficiency, hang a lantern on it."  And that is exactly what he does in this memoir, written clearly and plainly.  In telling his story, he goes back to his Italian roots, his father's work as a laborer, and his experiences growing up in the close-knit Boston neighborhood of Hyde Park.

He tells his side of the story of what things were like on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, when he checked himself out of the hospital in order to participate in a news conference to try to salve the frayed nerves of Boston residents.  He tells the stories of the school busing crisis and Boston's richly deserved reputation for being a racist city.  He talks about how the Convention Center and the Innovation Districts were conceived and built.  He chronicles the struggle to make Boston's schools places where the next generation could learn without fear of failure or violence.

He talks glowingly of his mentors, political partners and staff and openly about his enemies.

As my time living and working in the Boston area grew, I began to notice the incremental changes and improvements appearing in neighborhoods throughout the city.  Roslindale Square is once again a thriving village.  Dudley Square has become a place where people are no longer afraid to travel.  Menino's beloved Grove Hall neighborhood of Roxbury was re-furbished, the zoo brought back up to a high standard.  He truly was "The Pothole Mayor' with meticulous attention to detail;  I also got to meet him on several occasions and experience his personal warmth and genuineness.

As I write this review, Boston has just learned that former Mayor Menino has suspended his book tour and his cancer treatments, and has returned to his home to spend time with his family.  The message seems to be that his time is short.  He brought a great deal of himself to the task of rebuilding Boston.  He deserves a rest and the thanks of a grateful city.

This book is a well written and well presented encapsulation of the Mayor and the Man.