- The Discovery Awards
By David Garrahan
David Garrahan’s memoir is an exploration of the experiences of a born hustler, a man who converted a difficult early life into an academic career in which he had fingers in a lot of pies.
David Garrahan’s early life, spent in poverty across Brooklyn, and then in slightly better conditions in rural Pennsylvania, saw his struggle to survive take him from shoe shining in bars to fishing coins from beneath the grates in the pavement with string. In one memorable early chapter, the author finds himself running from a weapon-wielding abusive parent to the nearest police station to take shelter. Garrahan comes from a difficult place, but has a way with people and a knack for education. In fact, a seemingly endless stream of qualifications gathered on the run is what helps lift him from those stumbling, challenging beginnings to a place where he can hustle his way to key roles where he’s making a genuine difference in his community. Garrahan’s stop offs along the way include getting on a tenured professor fast-track at Columbia University and running a school board, but also chopping ice to supply sale boats while living with a still-segregated black community, and rebuilding a college library. He has a substantial, impressive and sometimes somewhat abrupt impact moving job to job, always looking for his next chance.
There are some irritants here, not least the author’s tendency to add the book’s title, DESTINY CONTROL, in brackets throughout the book where he feels an event reflects the title, which becomes jarring after a while. Generally, though, small weaknesses in the writing are overcome by Garrahan’s straightforward, pragmatic storytelling. His memoir is personal, but also about navigating life, about finding and making use of gaps you identify, and so finding ways to make yourself professionally useful. While there are, naturally, deeply personal elements to the text, it’s largely about this ability the author has to seek out space for change and spark improvement even while things are going fairly well. His outside-the-box thinking and assertive approach to management and policy battles stand out, in particular in Garrahan’s standing up for minorities in a society far less conscious of minority issues than today’s, and his relationship with those from disadvantaged backgrounds determined to push upwards in their lives. In a way, then, DESTINY CONTROL is a straight-up take on the American dream, though more one of constant self-confessed hustle and the benefits of (then relatively affordable) education than a trip down millionaire’s walk or an exploration of business acumen.
A stark and sometimes startling journey through a man’s unusual career, from New York street urchin in the 1940s to highly educated professor and school district head in the 80s and 90s, DESTINY CONTROL is a no-nonsense tale of David Garrahan’s rough and tumble life.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader