"If each of us does what he or she can, and stretches that help even further than they think they can, all of us will rise. And our communities will be transformed from sawdust into giant, solid oak trees."

The author of this finely detailed yet essentially unhurried, understated autobiography spent years as a distinguished engineer, researcher, and professor. But as the first third of this memoir clearly points out, that was hardly a foregone conclusion. He grew up in the Jim Crow South faced with prejudice, few opportunities, and limited resources, and for most of those early years, he didn’t even have an idea what to do with his life or how to figure it out. Yet, through diligence, ingenuity, good values, high morals, a basic trust of what’s possible, and plenty of adventure—from the army to the planting fields to the laboratories—Dr. Thigpen made a mark. He may not be world-famous or well known outside of his professional or academic circles, but as an American success, his story, or more accurately his life, is well worth the recognition provided here.

As he approached his eighties, after essentially living several lives, Thigpen decided to document his experiences—and some opinions to go along with them—in an autobiography. Perhaps his venerable age and the remarkable success he built from poverty in a segregated world gave him a license to do it his way. His way is a bit unconventional, with chapters that don’t necessarily follow a common autobiographical structure. But that doesn’t matter, because it works on many levels. For one, it’s flavorful. Stories of his family and friends are movie-worthy character studies. For another, even in the face of discrimination, his commentary remains tranquil, which is inspirational. For a third, he was smart enough to solicit skilled editorial help to improve further what would already have been a smooth narrative ride. And, ironically, being born in Sawdust, Florida, gave him an appealing title that alludes to a truly uplifting progression.

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