Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
This is simply one of the best autobiographical books we've encountered in a long time! It is more action-packed and engaging than most fiction novels!
Now, just to get this out of the way because it's one of the few negatives: this book has one of the most cringe worthy titles imaginable. It's the kind of title you think up when you're trying to finish an essay at 3 AM, you're just a works-cited page away from finishing it, and it happens to be titled “Essay That's Due Monday: Finish It.” The title, along with a few other things (like the fact that it appeared to be written in chronological order and that we expected it to be another of those self-centered, look-how-great-I-am books), lowered our expectations of the book. But these expectations were swiftly and thoroughly shattered by what we ended up reading.
Author Mark Allen may have suffered a traumatic brain injury and forgets what room he's in or where he left the keys, but he is BRILLIANT! As an autobiography, this book is almost perfect from cover to cover. It's exciting, it's engaging, it's action-packed, it's insightful, and it's inspiring. It's just the right length and does just the right things.
Why can't more books be like the first half of this book? Whatever happened to an ambitious hero bravely facing new circumstances and getting into an epic brawl or two? Why is it so hard for writers to just understand there's magic when you take a protagonist we like and an antagonist and just let them fight. Just let them fight doggonit! How often do you read a sci-fi or fantasy novel with all this build toward how powerful or intimidating the bad guy is only to have him get killed off screen or by some Sarlacc-Pit shenanigans? Whatever happened to good ole' fashioned one-versus-one, man-to-man score-settling? We know this is a true story based on true people and true events, but that just goes to demonstrate: often real-life is stranger (and better) than fiction!
Indeed, this book features the best and most detailed fights we've come across so far this contest cycle, and every single one of these fights is interesting and engaging. Every single one of these fights gets us to care, partly because they're described so well and partly because there are actual stakes—Allen's first boxing match, his first MMA fight, the fight that made him hear bells, the fight or sparring match that may or may not have caused his traumatic brain injury (TBI). Every single one of these fights has stakes and intrigue. What's more? We care and are concerned about the protagonist/author in every single one of them. Why is that so hard for other writers to pull this off? How hard is it to flesh out a protagonist and get us to care about their well-being? Instead, we usually get Mary Sues and Gary Stus who shrug off damage and always find their way out of sticky situations, often in the most fortuitous and unbelievable of ways.
Again, we know Mark Allen is a real guy and a real fighter/coach, but again: real-life proves stranger (and better) than fiction! What an incredible and inspiring life this man lived! It's a story about trying new things, overcoming obstacles, meeting new people, and discovering yourself. But it's also a tragic story about deep internal and external struggles including substance abuse and self-harm/suicide. It's a tragic story about loss—loss of control, loss of function, loss of self. It's a tragedy, and like King Lear, it's a tragedy we feel in our soul because we don't want harm to come to the protagonist regardless of whether or not they were a jerk earlier in the story. We're still on their side through and through, even as they begin to act out irrationally toward others. Rather than being angry or frustrated at Allen, we feel for him and relate to him. It's heartbreaking to see him lose coordination and the ability to drive. It hits hard and it hits home.
This is also a very relevant and timely book because of all the concerns about repeat concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Think about the current concerns influencing the NFL, WWE, boxing, and MMA. Targeting (deliberate helmet-to-helmet contact which was common when our editor played) is now punishable by ejection from the game in the NFL. Chair-shots to the head in the WWE (which used to happen almost every episode) are no longer allowed in the wake of Chris Benoit. It also seems like referee stoppages and TKOs are the norm now in boxing and MMA.
Great work, Mark Allen! One of the best autobiographical books we've read in a long while!
Check out “A True (Traumatic) Brain History: A Short Memoir” by Mark Allen!
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