Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

blind side Review by Ken Owen.

Michael Oher is an immense human being. At the age of sixteen, he had a 20-inch neck, 50-inch waist, and a 58-inch chest. Larger measurements, that is, than every single member of the Washington Redskins. This fact alone meant that his final years in high school, Oher was the focus of attention of college coaches across America – grown men taking detours of hundreds of miles to watch him practice, in the hope of persuading him to play for their team. Had these coaches the power to design a prototypical left tackle, Oher’s six-foot-five, 330-pound frame would have been pretty close to their model. And yet the fact that he was even still at high school was, in itself, nothing short of a miracle.

The focal point of Michael Lewis’s The Blind Side is the story of Oher’s transition from a teenager so neglected by society that the Memphis school board can’t really account for his academic record to an eighteen-year-old college recruit with the potential for earning millions when he hits the NFL draft (which he will do this April). Though Oher is the main narrative thrust, the book is a wide-ranging examination of the culture of American football, its tactical development, and most importantly of all, its uneasy relationship with the US educational system.

Oher is one of sixteen siblings born in the poorest (black) parts of Memphis. The determination of a friend’s father to get his own son into one of the elite (white) Christian schools quite literally changes the course of Michael’s life. Though he has no education to speak of, the Tuohy family take him under their wing, eventually adding him to their will. Oher does not excel at school; after sixteen years where formal education has made little impact on his life, this is scarcely surprising. Yet in some remarkably moving passages, Lewis shows the dedication of Oher’s new teachers as they deal with a type of child they have never met before, and transmits their joy when they realise that despite his taciturn nature, he has actually been absorbing the material he’s been taught in class.

Success in the classroom is, ultimately, vital for Michael’s future. For although his millions will come through his physical strength, and his ability to protect the quarterback (American football’s most valuable position), the development of a professional sportsmen is inextricably intertwined with the education system. The condition of his being accepted by his high school was greater academic achievement; unless his grade point average reaches a certain level, he won’t be allowed to go to college – no matter how many coaches are desperate for him to play.

The subject of the relationship between high school sports and educational achievement has been covered before. Buzz Bissinger’s ‘Friday Night Lights’, which has since been the inspiration for a movie and a TV series, followed a high school team in Texas for a season. Far from the saccharine, wholesome version of schooldays that we are accustomed to, Bissinger painted an unhappy and controversial portrait – of a white community interested in black children only so far as they could help compete for the state championship; a school with $5,000 for the English department but $70,000 for travel to away matches; allegations of pain-killers being used illegally to get injured teenagers playing as soon as possible. Such was the controversy the book caused that Bissinger, who had spent a year in the town, didn’t return until 20 years later.

The Blind Side has a more uplifting tale at its heart. Yet this does not stop it from being an unsettling story. The Tuohys are accused of taking Michael into their lives solely to ensure that he can play for their alma mater by college football’s regulatory body. This body exists to try and ensure that (nominal) academic standards are upheld by college athletes, but Oher and the Tuohys are subject to an invasive investigation, despite the fact Oher would be nowhere near college were it not for the Tuohys. Oher’s coaches do not cover themselves in glory, either; the high school head coach is clearly angling for a job at the college level, and will try and pressure Michael into choosing the college most likely to further his own prospects.

Most unsettling of all, though, is Lewis’s stark portrayal of the alternative life he might have led. Going into Hurt Village, Memphis, Lewis tells the story of a broken community ravaged by drug gangs and grinding poverty. He also retells the story of ‘Big Zach’, who in the 1990s had attracted the same interest from college scouts that Michael Oher was. Yet Big Zach didn’t have an adoptive family to push him to work hard at high school; he dropped out before he could make it to college, and now looks back on what might have been.

It is in this wider picture that The Blind Side truly excels. Oher is the sort of kid who you can’t help but root for. It is a pleasure to read of his transformation in so many facets of his life, and you put the book down hoping that he is as successful in the NFL as his coaches hope for. But there are deeper questions at the heart of this book that are not so easily resolved. It is clear that Oher has a remarkable capacity for absorbing knowledge and copying it – that is the secret of his success academically and athletically. Were it not for a freakish set of circumstances, however, he would still be on the wrong side of the tracks in Memphis, let down by the indifference of the education system. Moreover, Oher has been redeemed because he is a remarkable physical specimen. How many children have the same capacity to learn but are lost forever because they lack the potential to be an NFL superstar is a sobering thought. When even high school football can be the path to riches for all kinds of coaches and scouts, one feels for the children who miss out as a result of these priorities – both the children who are prevented from being paid for their athletic skill, and those whose educational development is considered a lower priority than sporting silverware.

Edition shown: WW Norton and Co.  2007.  Illustrated paperback.  320pp. ISBN: 978-0393330472.

41 comments on “The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

  1. Lisa
    February 18, 2009

    This sounds fascinating. I’m a fan of the Friday Night Lights TV series. It was totally different from what I expected. Would certainly read this. Many thanks for the guest review, Ken.

  2. hilarye
    February 18, 2009

    This sounds like a fascinating and truly moving book that I wouldn’t have looked at twice if it had not been for this eloquent review. Thank you! I had no idea of this link between NFL and the education system, and the way that it skews the curriculum and attitudes towards attainment – enlightening.

  3. Moira
    February 18, 2009

    I thought this was an absolutely fascinating review. Like Hilary, it’s not a book I’d have thought of picking up … even though I rather like American Football – much more (whisper it) than soccer – but now I think I’m going to have to seek it out.

    I vaguely knew about the football-education link … but not the true extent of it.

    Terrific stuff, Ken. Thank you.

    And although I’ve already said this once to you, I’ll say it again … that’s a really arresting opening line …!

  4. Jackie
    February 19, 2009

    Another excellent review from Mr. Owen. I wish more books looked at the human cost of football instead of so often concentrating on the rah-rah aspects. The education-football connection is growing more insidious all the time, I wish arts & science was given the same sort of spotlight & esteem. I think it’s doing a disservice to so many kids, considering the small numbers that are even possible to reach the professional level, there are only so many openings in the field. Kids who have abilities in math, science, literature have a wider range of options, yet are not encouraged & promoted the way athletes are.
    However, it must be said that sports is a lifesaver for kids such as Oher, who probably would’ve gotten lost otherwise. I’m glad he had people that cared enough about him to set him on a path where he can excel, that’s quite remarkable.
    Thanks for telling us about this book, the review makes it sound intriguing & I’m not even into sports.

  5. Pingback: Daum worry, be happy - OilersNation.com

  6. daniel sanchez
    May 6, 2009

    my teacher is buying this book tommrow i cant wait to read it

  7. joan hanshaw
    November 26, 2009

    do you have a dvd for the book for the blind .i have a neighbor that is blind .she would like to read the story.we went and seen the movie it was great. thank you joan

  8. mackinzie
    November 28, 2009

    iam nine and i whatced the blined side

  9. mackinzie
    November 28, 2009

    itwas so sad

  10. xonexs
    December 1, 2009

    This was a truely amazing movie and book! I <3 it my whole class is reading it and every1 says it is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Jessica
    December 3, 2009

    the blind side was an amazing and touching movie!! i can’t wait to read the book!! and to everyone who hasen’t seen this movie it’s a MUST to go see! it’s my new favorite movie and hopefully my new favorite book!!!

  12. alonzo coello
    December 9, 2009

    I think plenty people can relate to this book and learn!

  13. Mr MH
    December 10, 2009

    A great book. Not as good as Moneyball, but then again Moneyball was an instant classic.

    Buy it.

  14. jamaal
    December 11, 2009

    good movie fav part was when he put the dude on the bus

  15. jane
    December 13, 2009

    I love the movie Blind Side, and I am considering reading the book. I was wondering about something that happened in the movie. The part when Michael stops the air bag. Did that really happen?

  16. Hannah
    December 31, 2009

    I saw the awsome movie!!!

  17. Lauren
    January 3, 2010

    This book actually sounds quite intriguing and the review is very well written. I know the basics of American Football but I think this will be an interesting twist on the hard work that goes into making it both on the field and off. We need more authors out there on a public level promoting education and opportunities for young and old alike. We listened to years of our ex commander in chief preaching his “No Child Left Behind” stance yet look where that left Michael Oher and so many others unaccounted for. This poignant story that has been written shouting from the rooftops to open our eyes and put education first extra curricular activities second.

    Thank You Michael Lewis for this book and Ken Owen for this review its opening of our eyes and paying it forward.

  18. Amber Lin
    January 5, 2010

    i loved the movie it was absolutely fantastic!!!!

  19. tamiie
    January 29, 2010

    wow .. the movie was so amazing !!
    i really like it cause it so funny, dramatic, and it can really touch every one’s heart ..

  20. Joyce
    February 5, 2010

    The movie was phenomenal. “Were it not for a freakish set of circumstances” is an interesting thought. But Micheal Oher’s life and the path that lead him to the Tuohys and how it changed their lives is a convincing example of how God’s hand guided each of them in their lives and journeys. So I do not believe there were any freakish set of circumstances. I have ordered the book so am looking forward to reading it.

  21. Pingback: » THE BLIND SIDE OF M.J.OHER blogιν

  22. Conner
    February 26, 2010

    I bought the book 2 weeks ago and never took the time to read it. Now knowing what it is more about and the struggles he had i will take the time to read it .

  23. Jessica B
    February 26, 2010

    It is a very good movie so i think i will now read the book . To see the common traits of the two

  24. Annabelle
    March 3, 2010

    I saw the movie and it was truly inspirational. I would recommend it to anyone. Now I am hungry to read the book. Thanks for the excellent review.

  25. Marie Goble
    March 27, 2010

    Hi i think that this film is what it is all about if not a but black and white it’s about a happy family bounding together no matter who,what or where.
    I have watched this movie and i cryed and laughed at some bits but that film is what you call family.

    Thank you

  26. laurel
    March 30, 2010

    best movie ever.

  27. McKaylie
    April 4, 2010

    OMG! the best movie ever- totally loved it. reading book now for project. completely heart-warming in every way. would totally see again!

    GO MICHAEL :)

  28. katie
    April 7, 2010

    why is it called the blind side

  29. Reyna
    April 25, 2010

    Watched the movie… Very sad wanted to cry… Would like to read the book

  30. Kimoko
    May 13, 2010

    This film is amazing. I liked it because there was funny parts. I could empathise and sympathise with the characters. It shows how you would
    be in that situation. Sandra Bullock was amazing.
    She looked great with blonde hair.
    Don’t you think?

  31. cassie
    May 19, 2010

    I saw the movie it was very sad but also happy. I loved it + I hope that it inpired many people including me! I love the movie.
    from cassie

  32. Chris
    June 2, 2010

    It’s called the blind side, because he had to protect the quather back blind side in football. He a football player get it?

  33. Ralf
    September 19, 2010

    It is the “Blind Spot” that is hindering community in any field or place to take its real potential into action.

    Thanks to MalcolmGladwell and his talk about capitalization rates, when he mentions this book.

    Surely its on my reading list! Thanks so much:-)

  34. Tonya Brown
    November 5, 2010

    Please Help-

    Can anyone tell me the inspirational quote on the back of the book or DVD on The Blind Side. The art was a football player carrying a ball and I can not remember the quote.

  35. Tony Hawk
    January 3, 2011

    is it a Christian story

  36. star
    January 24, 2011

    this was awsome

  37. MARLENE O'DELL
    February 3, 2011

    THE BOOK IS BETTER THAN THE MOVIE. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST COMPELLING, INSPIRATIONAL, BOOKS I’VE EVER READ, AND I READ ALOT. IT MUST BE SAID, THAT SOMEWHERE WITHIN MICHAEL OHER, WAS A WILL OF STEEL. THE TUOHYS HELPED HIM TREMENDOUSLY, BUT HE DID THE HARD WORK.

  38. Ashley
    December 30, 2011

    This book was truly inspirational

  39. tiffany
    March 24, 2012

    that was a realy good book!!! it shoes you that some day that
    could be you.

  40. dakota huffman
    August 22, 2012

    i love the movie better than the book but the book is ok i would say the blindside is my favorite movie

  41. this link
    September 8, 2012

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems
    as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence
    on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something informative to read?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

Archive

Editorial Policy

The views expressed in the articles and reviews on Vulpes Libris are those of the authors, and not of Vulpes Libris itself.

Quoting from Vulpes Libris

You are very welcome to quote up to 100 words from any article posted on Vulpes Libris - as long as you quote accurately, give us due credit and link back to the original post. If you would like to quote MORE than 100 words, please ask us first via the email address in the Contact details.

Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 901 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: