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To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes Hardcover – May 8, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439198950
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439198957
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #512,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2012: When Francis Slakey committed himself to climbing the highest peak on every continent and surfing every ocean, his aspirations were purely selfish: he was after both glory (nobody had done both before) and a worthy excuse to maintain the isolation he had carefully nurtured since childhood. But as he traveled the world in the often reckless pursuit of his goals, fate--a concept that, as a physicist, he completely disavowed--seemed to intervene to chip away at the walls he'd built around himself. And when he narrowly avoids a deadly ambush at an Indonesian gold mine, he's forced to question every choice he's made. The adventure pieces of To the Last Breath, are first-rate and remarkable in themselves; whether he's dangling on the face of El Capitan after catastrophic equipment failure, summiting Everest solo in a blizzard, or leaping from the roof of a building into a shallow swimming pool as a troubled teenager, Slakey's prose is taut and intense, worthy of the genre's best. But additionally, Slakey has threaded an epic adventure tale with a much more personal journey, creating a single, riveting tale of self-discovery. --Jon Foro

From Booklist

From the moment as a teen that he jumped off a four-story apartment building into a narrow, shallow swimming pool, taking calculated risks with his body became a habit for physics professor Slakey. He was always confident that through planning he could cheat death and injury from any height. Wanting to outdo all other daredevils, he decided not only to climb the highest peak on every continent but also to surf every ocean. Scarred by his mother’s early death, he resolved to form no emotional attachments that could slow this quest or, more important, break his heart again. Vowing never to marry, buy a house, or have children, he worked just to support his globetrotting. In his lively memoir, Slakey recounts how, after a series of extraordinary experiences transformed his thinking, he began to involve himself in political causes, improve his teaching, and break all his vows. For readers who like adventure and romance. --Rick Roche

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Customer Reviews

I have rarely read a book that is so candid and thoughtful.
Slakey shares with us his most amazing experiences and his darkest moments and through it all we discover a man we can all learn from.
Tania A. Ruiz
Although he does "redeem" himself near the end of the book many people might have a hard time making it through the first half.
Jonathon Winters

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on May 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Without knowing it, Francis Slakey was prescribing his own psychotherapy when he decided to climb the highest mountains and surf all the oceans of the world.

Slakey is one of America's most dynamic scientific personalities. He's the Upjohn Lecturer on Physics and Public Policy at Georgetown University, founder and co-director of the Program on Science and the Public Interest, a Lemelson Associate of the Smithsonian --- and the list goes on. On his website, you will learn that "Dr. Slakey became the 28th American to summit Mt. Everest in an unguided expedition that hauled 700 spent oxygen bottles and a half-ton of trash off the mountain. He is the first person in history to summit the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean. He has hitchhiked across Central Asia, lived with Masai in East Africa, scaled the granite face of El Cap, and skied in Antarctica." It is these adventures that he has written about in TO THE LAST BREATH.

The book, though, is only partly about Slakey's feats of daring on the surface of Planet Earth. Underlying these exploits is the story of Planet Francis, a cold dark planet that began to form when his mother died of a brain tumor when he was just a child. He gradually separated himself from people, from affection, from close relationships. Science didn't fail him, was always logical, and, like the newly forming Planet Francis, was icy and remote. After becoming a well-known scientific academic, Slakey decided it was time to conquer the physical world as he knew it. "The journey would unravel me, then bind me back together into someone who could feel and care."

Those who thrive on physical risk-taking will enjoy the author's descriptions of scaling El Capitan and Mt.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Stella on May 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Stunning. Absolutely beautiful. An un-put-downable story about an amazing athlete whose personal transformation is as authentic as it is inspiring.

How much did I like this book? Enough to blow off my grad school homework to keep reading until I finished around 2 a.m. Enough to go online shortly after and buy tickets to Slakey's event tomorrow in Seattle, where I will stock up on signed copies for gifts for family and friends. Enough to delight in the prospect of rereading this book several more times.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By bioboy59 on November 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book contains very little about mountain climbing or surfing. For example the author gives a detailed account of the intrigue involved in buying safe passage through a mine in Papua, Indonesia. But then there is nothing, and I mean nothing about the climb, to the summit and back, of what must have been one of the most biodiverse mountains in the world. And what about Denali? We are told more about the theft of his ice axe, and digging a snow trench at camp than about the experience of climbing this amazing mountain. The book is about the author's transformation from a cold heartless man to a warm caring companion worthy of a dog and a wonderful wife. He attributes this transformation to his globetrotting experiences but fails to make the case. One could just as easily suggest it is because of the differences between the testosterone levels of a 40-something compared to those of a 20-something. A large tangential section of the book is devoted to the author's suggestion that he was a pivotal figure in the Congressional investigation of the massacre of Americans in Papua, Indonesia. He clearly overstates his importance since he has no expertise in forensics or the politics of the region. The big clue that this is merely self-aggrandizement comes when the reader realizes that the author is not testifying before a Congressional Committee, but only answering the questions of some low level Staffers.

Overall, a misleading title and cover for a book of self-absorption that lacks a story and cries for an editor to say "sorry, go back and write it again."
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Gina on June 19, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was hopeful about this book because I love books about mountain climbing, it seemed like an interesting premise, and I'd seen this book a few times on bookstore shelves. But this is definitely one of those adventure books by someone who's not an author. The story is disjointed, at times uninteresting, and often insulting to the reader's intelligence.

Additionally, Slakey tries to do that thing that adventure writers do where they throw in interesting facts and historical bits about the sport, but to be honest, if you've ever gone for just a 2-hour hike in the mountains or watched a surf competition, you probably already know the facts he tries to "inform" you about. For example, did you know that to catch a wave the surfer has to swim as fast as the water is moving? No duh. As someone who actually climbs mountains and lived seaside long enough to attempt surfing a few times, I was actually annoyed by Slakey's writing style way more often than I enjoyed the underlying stories.

Additionally, the book comes across as self-aggrandizing at best and preachy at worst. How Slakey "stumbles upon" a cause and his shameless cheering of himself for doing something remotely unselfish is just annoying.

This book is nowhere near the caliber and quality of good adventure writers like Jon Krakauer, nor does it reflect the level of research and experience of writer-mountaineers like Ed Viesturs. Don't waste your time.
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