Saturday, November 21, 2015

Concussion, by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Random House, ISBN 9780812987577, November 2015

Bennet Omalu grew up in Nigeria, cherished as one of the family's two "geniuses," and as the family's "angel," born when his father was nearly killed but somehow survived. Bennet thought, though, that his reputation for genius came from the fact that he used books and study to escape a world that was too loud and boisterous for him. When at sixteen he finally has to attend school away from home, without any of his siblings, he develops a crushing depression that he struggles with for many years. Despite this, he keeps going, gets his medical degree, and goes to America, in large part to escape the chaos and corruption of Nigeria.

In America, after some unlikely twists and turns, he winds up in Pittsburgh, working in the coroner's office, and doing the autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster.

Omalu doesn't even know what a "Steeler" is. He has no interest in American football. He has seen a few games on TV, though, and he has serious questions about what the violent game does to players' brains. He strongly suspects that the stories he's hearing about Webster "going crazy" after his career ended are unfair, and reflect brain damage due to the the game.

So he looks for damage, and finds something earthshaking.

The book intertwines Omalu's struggles with depression, his struggles to adapt to live in America, so different from his tiny home village in Nigeria, and his struggles to get his explosive discovery first in Webster's brain and then in the brains of one NFL player after another, recognized, acknowledged, and acted on by an NFL heavily invested in denying his results and not paying the costs of the permanent, life-changing damage done to its players.

Bennet Omalu had no idea what fight he was taking on when he started, but once he does, he won't back down. This is a compelling story, of Omalu's personal growth and of a medical discovery that is just beginning even now to make changes in the NFL, and in America's relationship with football Laskas dos a marvelous job conveying the intricacies and complications in a clear and concise way.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.