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To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes

3.39  ·  Rating Details ·  434 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
A journey to the most extreme points on Earth and deep inside the human spirit

Before Georgetown physics professor Francis Slakey decided to climb the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean, he had shut himself off from other people. His lectures were mechanical; his relationships were little more than ways to fill the evenings. But as his journey veered
ebook, 272 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
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I was so disappointed in this book. First, Slakey seems like a jackass. It's been a long time since I have had a writer irritate me as much as this guy did. His story is essentially the tale of a sociopath who finally grew up when he turned 40 and learned to be nice to others.

Second, there was some bait-and-switch marketing going on. This book was promoted as a mountain-climbing memoir — He Scales High Peaks On Every Continent! — but Slakey constantly skimped on the actual climbing stories. He o
I would have enjoyed this memoir a lot more if 1) it had been filed under the biography section in our library, and not the adventure/ climbing section 2) had it been more focused on Slakey's legitimately impressive global feats, and 3) if it wasn't written in the tone of a teenager's livejournal. I felt like I was reading an insincere high school student's college admittance essay, trying to convince me that they are more unique than their neighbor because they have overcome a personal struggle ...more
May 26, 2012 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mountain-woe
Perhaps miscast as mountain woe? Oddly enough, since the cover is a guy climbing a mountain, I thought it would be about climbing mountains. At some point, although he's "stood on the summit of the highest mountain in Africa, South America, Europe, Asia, Antarctica, and North America," I had to think pretty hard about when all this happened. Not in this book, I guess. I read a few pages about him being on Everest, and then several about him sitting in his tent in Antarctica. The moral is, don't ...more
La Petite Américaine
May 16, 2012 La Petite Américaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
**Update** Once again, I'm left astounded by Goodreads reviewers. The shitty books get rave reviews and the outstanding ones get bad reviews because "this book wasn't what I expected"?? Normally I don't give a damn if someone doesn't like a good book, but come on. You're pissed off that a book with Everest on the cover turned out to be a memoir and not a mountain climbing guide? You've got to be kidding me. Ugh, go read Fifty Shades of Grey or something.**

This book was absolutely wonderful. Not
May 04, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read an advanced copy of To the Last Breath. This is not my style of book whatsoever -- I rarely read non-fiction, what little non-fiction I do read is never memoir, and I tend to find adventure tales, not to mention personal transformation tales, a little boring -- but I read it in two sittings, and have not stopped raving about it since. I loved it. This is a really spectacular book, and I think a lot of people are going to get a lot out of it.

The book jacket will do a better job of explain
Jun 16, 2012 Trisha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was a little disappointed by this memoir. According to its description, it is an exciting journey of a man who challenges himself to climb the highest mountains and surf in every ocean, experiencing the extremes of nature and the dangers of civil unrest in dangerous locations. Rock on!! In actuality, it was chapter after chapter of him rambling on about being detached, unsympathetic, closed off, self-isolating, just goes on and on. There is very little about the actual mountain climbi ...more
Sherri Huntley
Apr 26, 2012 Sherri Huntley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
A truely engaging story of climbing and surfing every continent in the world. The stories from those adventures are attention grabbing and the story of personal growth in the process is sweet as well. Franci Slakey methodicaly move through his planning of the adventures he is going to attemp and ends up being sucessful. Along the way he learns a lot about opening up to life and to others and ends up testifying before congress in order to help find justice for victims of a violent attack that he ...more
Sep 11, 2013 Laurel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed in this memoir. I thought it would contain much more description of Slakey's climbing and surfing adventures. Rather, Slakey patted himself on the back too many times as he described the process he went through around self-actualization: going from a non-emotional cad to a altruistic patron of nature and the helpless/hopeless. He seemed a bit too proud of his accomplishments. His story was not memorable or moving.
Derrek Robert
May 10, 2012 Derrek Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To the Last Breath was my second book that I have acquired through giveaways on and so far I have come to believe that the books I have won are trying to find me. I have rarely read non-fiction books, and the ones that I have read did not interest me at all. But this book ironically has come to reopen my view on the genre. It was able to completely captivate my attention whenever I opened it up. The hook was in that I was able to connect to his story. Usually I perceive anything I ...more
Last weekend, when the author of this book, a Georgetown science professor was in San Francisco speaking to a group of Georgetown alums, he asked us to consider the limit of risk we were willing to accept. Despite having read Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" twice and having watched all the Everest documentaries that are available to be streamed on Netflix, I have no trouble identifying climbing Everest as a risk I would be unwilling to take on. Not so for Professor Slakey, who describes in this b ...more
Selket Nicole
May 26, 2012 Selket Nicole rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own, travel
this book is not what i expected at all...i expected it to be about the author climbing the tallest peak on every continent and surfing in every ocean, since that's what it claims to be about. it's not. and if that's what you're looking for, this book is probably not for you. it describes climbing everest and mentions, with very little detail, a couple other climbs - in antartica, notably. it notes at various points how many of the oceans he's surfed in, but doesn't detail a single surfing exper ...more
C.L. Stambush
I loved the opening but then stopped reading about 20 pages into it. The story took a turn toward the mundane. I suppose the author was tying events from his childhood into the story so readers would understand what drove him to climb all those mountains. The scene that caused me to quit had to do with him being a rather ridiculous child. While in HS he injured his hand and decided to use the injury as an excuse to not attend school or do his work. When he returned to school -- completely unprep ...more
May 23, 2012 Mila rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this on audio (read by the author) in one sitting and was fairly disappointed. I didn't turn it off - it was worth finishing at least - but I balked at his character, style, and facts. There were some glaring errors, such as the fact that there are no Redwoods in Yosemite (there are Giant Sequoias). And what ended up really getting to me was the stylistic choices. The book was awkward, an artificial "page-turner" by cutting off stories partway through and inserting a long, tangenti ...more
Jan 12, 2013 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was prepared for this book because the reviews kept saying how egomaniacal and self-obsessed this guy was. And it's true (although he sort of came off as more pathetic to me), but because I was prepared that didn't bother me as much. I just wanted to vicariously live through someone doing all this extreme climbing from within the comfort of my living room without having to lift a finger, and the book was somewhat good in that regard.

However, he strayed WAY off in a few points onto excessively
I won this book through the First Reads program on Goodreads. I thought it would be about mountain climbing and surfing. It is- sort of- Slakey does accomplish his goals. It is more of a lengthy examination of the author's change of heart toward the rest of humanity. I found the book difficult to put down, even as I was annoyed by Slakey's know-it-all tone. Over the course of the 12 years he took to climb the highest peak on each continent and surf each ocean, he supposedly went from a cold, hea ...more
Jan 23, 2013 Julie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting memoir about how the author's quest to climb the highest peak on each continent and surf each ocean transformed his life in unexpected ways. The author of this memoir begins as a very self-contained, isolated, selfish person. But just as I was starting to wonder whether I would really keep reading the author finally starts to connect with the people around him, consider the fact that there are things in the world science may not be able to explain, and grow as a human being. While th ...more
Alexandra Sterling
Privileged, self-absorbed white man roams the world indulging in some the world's most expensive pastimes. Epiphany. Returns to campus to exhort his disciples to do good works. Still has to let us know in his Epilogue that he listens to cool music while working on his rock-hard abs.

Writing wasn't half bad, saved it from a single-star rating.

Update: (3 years later) “If you get to the end of your life and you have regrets that you could have done better, then you blew it.” Either that, or you are
Elly Sands
May 10, 2012 Elly Sands rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I liked the author's concise and honest style of writing. Although the mountain climbing and surfing aspect of his life led him to various places around the world it still seemed he was on a direct straightforward path. A path leading him away from his self centered lifestyle into one that serves people and the planet. It was interesting to watch his transformation unfold. My only complaint would be that the book seemed too short. Perhaps he thought a longer version w ...more
Sharon Mcalister
This book is about a very well educated man who decides to climb the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean. He is totally goal
oriented. He vows never to marry, have children , own property or to let anyone or anything interfere with his goal. It is difficult to care about this
man because he seems to be such a jerk. Most of the descriptions of his mountain climbing are limited. More details would have made this a better
book. In the end, he is somewhat transformed, but not enoug
Feb 02, 2013 Jodi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading other peop;e's reviews I will say this is a time to rely on the old cliche "don't judge a book by it's cover.." - The story details the author's climbs and his pursuits in acheiving it to the highest points on every continent and the discoveries and life changing events that he endured in the process. I like the details of the different villages and cultures that he stumpbled upon - much different then our own. I thought his writing was fluid, and it captured my was ...more
David V.
Received this book as an ARC from the publisher. A self-absorbed physics prof decides to climb the highest peaks on each continent and surf in every ocean, so for 12 years he attempts to accomplish this record. Along the way he becomes more concerned about others than himself, and even learns to share his life. I suspect that his "habilitation" still has more to go, but his stories of his adventures were enlightening.
Val Wilkerson
Jun 12, 2012 Val Wilkerson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-books-read
True story of Francis Slakey's travels as he aims to climb the highest mountains
and surf a wave in every ocean. He is a science teacher so he has the time to make
these journeys, which I believe took 12 years to complete. He encounters some amazing
people along the way and shares his travel stories with his readers. At the end of his
journey he is a different person and a much better teacher to his students. A very
entertaining read.
Feb 04, 2013 Dayna rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. Slakey is certainly no Krakauer. I understand his need to memorialize his journey to becoming a better person but his arrogance and narcissism got in the way of me taking him seriously. This book should be left on the shelf.
Aug 12, 2012 Noah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The content of this book is pretty riveting, but I found Slakey's overwrought writing insufferable. He recycles the same rhetorical devices and faux cliffhangers over and over again and sets a maudlin tone that made it hard for me to care about anything that was happening.
Apr 08, 2015 Lynn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot get enough of climbing Everest. It's all Jon Krakauer's fault.

In all honesty, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this memoir. Not because I had heard bad things, or anything like that; I just wasn't expecting to really get as into the story as I did. Slakey does a fantastic job sucking the reader in, and making what could have been a more technical and boring story quite the page-turner, earning itself 4 out of 5 stars from me.

I started reading this book because mountain climbing and surfing had always appea
Apr 29, 2012 Tania rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One man's journey to conquer the physical becomes his emotional deliverance. Francis Slakey begins his quest with a goal in mind - set a record, to be the first man to climb the highest mountain on every continent and to surf every ocean. The challenge he sets out in front of him seems simple at the time: 8 peaks, 4 shorelines, 12 experiences to check off his To Do List. He is driven by his indifference to the world to shrug it off in this independent series of adventures. The world, as it turns ...more
Attica Musings
Apr 23, 2012 Attica Musings rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was drawn to put this book on my to-read list due to its listing on Good Reads. The write up for it was interesting that I signed up for the give-away. I won it! It came in the mail during a very busy time. I picked it up and thought, well, I need to read this. It would have been easy to put down if it hadn't been good. It was good. The writer is local for me, but I may never run into him. IF he does a signing, I think I might attend. He has a story to tell and he told it well.

As a global nom
Apr 27, 2012 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-read
Francis Slakey has agreed with descriptions of himself as self-absorbed, insensitive, disconnected. From his point of view, these traits presented certain advantages to help him accomplish his goal(s) to climb the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean. While he had climbing partners, he was removed from them to the point he offered little help when one partner lost his boots, forcing him to climb down a mountain with little to no foot protection.

A physics professor at Georgeto
Jul 06, 2013 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Francis Slakey is a scientist and a professor who suddenly realizes his life does not have meaning, is not the kind of life he wants to lead. Thus, he begins a journey to find that meaning, to live the life he wants to live across the globe. When his plan veers off track, he begins to change while almost losing his life and changing his inner core beliefs. This is the story of a person in search of himself. The travels are fine for this, but it is really the challenges resented that show him who ...more
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Francis Slakey is the Upjohn Lecturer on Physics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and the Associate Director of Public Affairs at the American Physical Society, where his focus is the intersection of science and society.

The founder and co-director of the Program on Science in the Public Interest, a Lemelson Associate of the Smithsonian Institution, and a MacArthur Scholar, Dr. Slakey has
More about Francis Slakey...

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“If you get to the end of your life and you have regrets that you could have done better, then you blew it.” 3 likes
“It is remarkable, the lines that connect people. You can strike up a conversation with someone, a stranger even, and discover that you have a friend in common, that your aunts were from the same town, or that his best friend can grease your way into Bhutan. It seems on those occasions that we are all like strands of DNA, spun around each other in a double helix.” 2 likes
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