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To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes Hardcover – May 8, 2012
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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 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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I think overall the book was a pretty good read (above comments aside), but I found that Slakey spent too much time building his early character traits. He paints himself as an uncaring and pretty unpleasant person for the majority of the book. It's a valuable rhetorical tool in the end, as he [spoiler....] uses that as a foil for his later self, having been changed through his experiences to be a person much more caring and concerned with the world around him. I appreciated the change over the course of the book, but I found that for me, he spent way too much time making himself seem unpleasant, such that by the end, even though he was no longer the same person and was a "changed man," I had sort-of stopped caring and was mostly finishing the book because I'd started it, not because I cared that he changed himself. I do, however, tip my hat to him for his accomplishments, on the Georgetown campus, and out in the "real world."
The surfing portion was much less interesting, and good that it was less of the book ... but really, I live in San Diego and know first hand that surfing is nothing compared to mountain climbing or "Crossing the Atlantic" in a rowboat (a great read) or hiking the Pacific Trail (another great read called "Wild".) Try those on if you're intrigued by humans, particularly women in both cases, tackling really herculean challenges.
While I enjoyed reading the various stories, I mostly appreciated the overall message of the book: be involved in the life of others that surround you, try to change things even if they seem impossible at first. Simple ideas but more relevant than ever during the troubled times we are going through.
His escapades are amazing and his stories of the people and cultures of the countries he visited are fascinating.
In the process of achieving his feat, he finds the need to change himself which leads to many positive new directions in his life.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly . Some good lessons for us all.
It's not a "touchy-feely" book.