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To the Last Breath by Francis Slakey

What begins as a self-satisfied adventure story becomes an account of personal transformation.

Francis Slakey was a physics professor at Georgetown University who paid more attention to his blackboard than he did to his students. He described himself as withdrawn and considered it a good thing. Then, as he tells it in his memoir, To the Last Breath, a chip on his shoulder sends him hunting a world record. His goal–to climb the highest peak on every continent and surf every ocean–was intended to be a physical test, a self-absorbed, even narcissistic pursuit of excellence in sport.

Along the way, though, Slakey experiences many cultures, flirts with spiritual enlightenment and comes to suspect that seeming coincidences along the way mean something. The physical challenge turns out to be the least significant aspect of his journey, as the threat of guerrilla warfare becomes as real as the fear of falling off a cliff. Slakey ends up changing his ideas about what matters most in life; his experiences with the power of nature and the power of human contact turn his world upside down–for the better.

Slakey brings a scientist’s matter-of-fact treatment to a tale of international travel and cultural interaction. He transports his reader to Yosemite, Kilimanjaro and Everest (as well as Antarctica), encounters violence in Indonesia and terrifying driving habits in Morocco and returns home more intact than he began. A love story, an athletic journey, an introspective process of discovery, To the Last Breath is Slakey’s evolution.


This review originally ran as a *starred review* in the May 22, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 5 mountains scaled.

3 Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog, I found you at Scene of the Blog. Love your header pic and I always enjoy finding a new book blog.
    Thanks, Dorothy

  2. […] How I would like to die: Walking It Off, To the Last Breath […]

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