HOPE FOR THE FUTURE FROM A DIFFERENT KIND OF VACCINE
Dr. Augustus White does not lack for accolades; in fact, he boasts a CV the size of a novella, rightfully commemorating his lifetime of achievements. Which makes it all the more fitting that he chose thriller writer Jon Land to work with on the incredibly well-timed, uniquely powerful, inspirational and uplifting tome Overcoming: Lessons in Overcoming Adversity and the Power of Our Common Humanity. The book’s cogent and relevant message is so impactful in these conflict-riddled times that it actually required a second co-author in David Chanoff, a nonfiction specialist to complement Land’s storytelling skills.
In the case of Overcoming, the stories in question consist of twenty profiles of those who’ve found the resilience to steadfastly refuse to buckle under to adversity, the weight of which should have crushed them. But none of them managed that alone, and that’s where the power of common humanity from the subtitle comes in. Indeed, what emerges more than anything else in Overcoming is that we are stronger together, that what unites us in common purpose is so much stronger than what divides us. In that respect, reading the book is like getting inoculated against the lingering effects of the divisions that have roiled the country for the past four years and a vaccine to ward that off from happening for the next four and beyond.
There are athletes in the form of a paralyzed wrestler who recovered to become a champion and a female football player who went on to become the first ever Division One college football position coach. There are doctors in the form of America’s first African-American female orthopedic surgeon and an oncological orthopedist who also served as an astronaut. One of the Lost Boys of the Sudan is featured, along with a transgender young man, a blind psychotherapist, two sets of parents who lost children, a family raising a disabled needs child, a one-armed female champion weightlifter, an advanced stage lung cancer survivor and a whole bunch more who make our everyday problems pale by comparison.
But for me the most pointed parts of the book are Dr. White’s own comments that frame the book’s beginning and end and his reflections on each of the chapters that come in between. It’s in these pages where he brings his own experience growing up in the Black south to become someone who in his eighth decade can celebrate a lifetime of “firsts,” from the first African-American medical student at Stanford, the first black surgical resident at Yale, the first black professor of surgery at Yale, and the first black chief of service at a Harvard teaching hospital. As he tells us about his experience serving as a trauma surgeon in Vietnam, “When you make the incision, when you look inside, everybody is the same. The reality of the body tells you this.”
Sadly, that’s a reality seemingly lost on tens of millions of Americans these days, but any one of them who reads Overcoming is likely to come away seeing the world a different way. The book serves as a celebration of the basic goodness of people and their capacity to beat the odds. Dr. White’s greatest gift is that he talks the talk because he’s walked the walk. And the result is a stunningly effective achievement in form and function thanks to an assemblage of heroes whose lessons should serve as signposts for us all.
Connect with Co-Author Jon Land