“The Journey: Appalachia to Paradise to Purgatory” is regarded as one of the best nonfiction books as it presents the innocence, happiness, and final disappointment of a West Virginia coal miner’s son who sees his country on the slippery slope to immorality and the highest levels of academia. It is a type of “rags to riches” story, from the coal fields to a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force and a Ph.D. from a world-class university. This autobiography is about the author’s retirement journey to Appalachia, a virtual paradise provided by God, family, and America. This also reveals an empowering journey and appreciation of his country while at the same time witnessing the slow decay of the American culture and values that he knew as a young man.
The inspiration and lessons the readers will gain from reading this book will make it one of the best nonfiction books they have ever read. Click to see video of the Colonel’s journey.
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Author Witten has arrayed a vast assemblage of materials recounting his long and remarkable life. Born to a Black family in West Virginia, where his father was a mineworker, he quickly absorbed the ideals of hard work and family cohesion. He would carry those values through service in the Air Force in the Korean War. He rose slowly but surely to higher military ranks, displaying his mechanical expertise in often-perilous situations and his gifts as a mediator in a conflict between an intolerant White supervisor and a group of militant young Black men. After serving in the Vietnam War and living in other foreign climes, he and his wife settled in North Carolina, where he became a professor at Shaw University, voluntarily obtaining a Ph.D. Witten recalls his childhood as an opportunity to establish character and appreciate nature. His Air Force career gave him added inner strength and yielded a Bronze Star and other honors. However, the loss of his wife to cancer plunged him into what he calls “purgatory.” Yet Witten persists, having created this lengthy work over several years, drawing on and including materials ranging from historical documents to endearing family photographs. The information offered covers specific background on the Coal Wars in West Virginia and geographical and sociological data about countries such as Iceland, The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and others where he served or lived for varying periods. To illustrate his observation of the current flaws in both Black and White cultures, he has collected newspaper articles supporting his viewpoints as a conservative thinker, presenting long sections of such substance to his readers, who will doubtless agree with him on key points as well as finding fascination and satisfaction in this saga of Witten’s gradual rise and undeniable success based on his belief in basic American values.