2 out of 4 stars
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Defining Moments of a Free Man from a Black Stream is a memoir by Dr. Frank L. Douglas. It highlights his childhood in British Guiana (now Guyana), his time at University in the United States in the 1960s, his rise in Big Pharma Research and Development, and finally his return to academia at the end of his career. After reading the forward for the book, I immediately went to see if there was an audio book version, because this is exactly the kind of book I love to listen to while traveling. Sadly, no audio book version exists.
The book focuses almost entirely on Dr. Douglas’s education and career. We do meet his mother and a few other important family members at the start, when we are dealing with his childhood, but we get almost no mention of his family after he starts University in the United States. The exception to this is talking about his mother’s illness and later death.
The absence of his family was so complete that I remember wondering during the sections on his education, just when he was going to marry his fiance, to whom he had become engaged right before leaving British Guiana. So I was incredibly surprised by him mentioning his wife and two young kids at home at one point during the section on his graduate school experience.
I understand that one of Dr. Douglas’s main purposes in writing this book was to share his educational and professional experiences with his wife and children, but it still seemed very odd +how little he mentioned them. And given that another purpose of the book was to call out the racism he experienced and witnessed during his time in academia and the professional world, I expected to see examples of racism his family faced, as well.
However, even without the family element, Dr. Douglas’s experiences were very interesting. I enjoyed learning about his career path, and his perseverance in the face of discrimination throughout his education and career. The story of how an intelligent young boy got a scholarship to study engineering in the United States, with the promise that he would return home to serve his country, and went on to become a medical doctor and oversee the development of numerous important drugs in the United States and Europe, was fascinating and definitely worth my time.
Unfortunately, I must give Defining Moments of a Free Man from a Black Stream a rating of only two stars out of four. This is why I wish there had been an audio book version. Content wise, the book was definitely a solid three stars. (I could not rate the content four stars because Dr. Douglas went too deep into the science of the drugs he had a hand in developing too often, creating entire paragraphs that meant nothing to the lay reader.) However, there was an egregious lack of copy editing in the book, especially the electronic version. It seems that a file containing the print manuscript was simply converted to the electronic format without anyone checking that it had converted correctly. Headers and page numbers were inserted into the text every time they appeared, and because page breaks in the print and electronic versions are different, that meant that sometimes those were inserted at the top or bottom of a page and sometimes in the middle of a page. In addition, there were numerous grammatical and punctuation errors that likely exist in both versions of the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys memoirs about people overcoming many obstacles to succeed in life, or to those who are interested in a research based career path, whether in industry or academia. I do, however, suggest you pick up the print version to avoid the many formatting issues with the electronic version, or, better yet, wait for an audio book version to be available.
Defining Moments of a Free Man from a Black Stream
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