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Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived

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Some people are born to lead and destined to teach by the example of living life to the fullest, and facing death with uncommon honesty and courage. Peter Barton was that kind of person. Driven by the ideals that sparked a generation, he became an overachieving Everyman, a risk-taker who showed others what was possible. Then, in the prime of his life—hugely successful, happily married, and the father of three children—Peter faced the greatest of all challenges. Diagnosed with cancer, he began a journey that was not only frightening and appalling but also full of wonder and discovery. With unflinching candor and even surprising humor, Not Fade Away finds meaning and solace in Peter's confrontation with mortality. Celebrating life as it dares to stare down death, Peter's story addresses universal hopes and fears, and redefines the quietly heroic tasks of seeking clarity in the midst of pain, of breaking through to personal faith, and of achieving peace after bold and sincere questioning.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2003

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About the author

Laurence Shames

35 books203 followers
Laurence Shames has been a New York City taxi driver, lounge singer, furniture mover, lifeguard, dishwasher, gym teacher, and shoe salesman. Having failed to distinguish himself in any of those professions, he turned to writing full-time in 1976 and has not done an honest day’s work since.

His basic laziness notwithstanding, Shames has published more than twenty books and hundreds of magazine articles and essays. Best known for his critically acclaimed series of Key West Capers--14 titles and counting!--he has also authored non-fiction and enjoyed considerable though largely secret success as a collaborator and ghostwriter. Shames has penned four New York Times bestsellers. These have appeared on four different lists, under four different names, none of them his own. This might be a record.

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1951, to chain-smoking parents of modest means but flamboyant emotions, Shames did not know Philip Roth, Paul Simon, Queen Latifa, Shaquille O’Neal, or any of the other really cool people who have come from his hometown. He graduated summa cum laude from NYU in 1972 and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. As a side note, both his alma mater and honorary society have been extraordinarily adept at tracking his many address changes through the decades, in spite of the fact that he’s never sent them one red cent, and never will.

It was on an Italian beach in the summer of 1970 that Shames first heard the sacred call of the writer’s vocation. Lonely and poor, hungry and thirsty, he’d wandered into a seaside trattoria, where he noticed a couple tucking into a big platter of fritto misto. The man was nothing much to look at but the woman was really beautiful. She was perfectly tan and had a very fine-gauge gold chain looped around her bare tummy. The couple was sharing a liter of white wine; condensation beaded the carafe. Eye contact was made; the couple turned out to be Americans. The man wiped olive oil from his rather sensual lips and introduced himself as a writer. Shames knew in that moment that he would be one too.

He began writing stories and longer things he thought of as novels. He couldn’t sell them.

By 1979 he’d somehow become a journalist and was soon publishing in top-shelf magazines like Playboy, Outside, Saturday Review, and Vanity Fair. (This transition entailed some lucky breaks, but is not as vivid a tale as the fritto misto bit, so we’ll just sort of gloss over it.) In 1982, Shames was named Ethics columnist of Esquire, and also made a contributing editor to that magazine.

By 1986 he was writing non-fiction books. The critical, if not the commercial, success of these first established Shames’ credentials as a collaborator/ghostwriter. His 1991 national bestseller, Boss of Bosses, written with two FBI agents, got him thinking about the Mafia. It also bought him a ticket out of New York and a sweet little house in Key West, where he finally got back to Plan A: writing novels. Given his then-current preoccupations, the novels naturally featured palm trees, high humidity, dogs in sunglasses, and New York mobsters blundering through a town where people were too laid back to be afraid of them. But this part of the story is best told with reference to the books themselves, so please spend some time and explore them.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 159 reviews
Profile Image for Virginia Hume.
Author 3 books224 followers
June 30, 2008
I lived without regrets for like a solid week after reading this book. (Sad to report that I find the motivational effects of inspiring biographies are a little ephemeral).

It's an unspeakably sad story, really, but about a truly inspiring guy.

I ought to read it again and buy myself another week of regret-free living!
Profile Image for Janie Johnson.
890 reviews131 followers
June 28, 2015
This a story about living life, pain, love, faith, and ultimately death. Peter Barton was full of life, energy and passion when he discovers he has cancer. This is his account of his life and how he lived it to the fullest.

I liked the way this book was wrote both as a memoir and a biography, and how it was written by 2 different people. I think it captured the importance of not giving up and living life fully every day. I also like how we were allowed to live Peter's life through reading this book. I liked who he was as a person, businessman, husband and father. I think as readers of this book we are better able to understand cancer, pain, and loss. It was very fluid and easy to read, also pretty emotional as well.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes memoirs or life stories, even though they don't always have a happy ending. Even though the book did not blow me away, it is a great look into courage, love and understanding.
Profile Image for Renae.
362 reviews3 followers
August 28, 2018
While this book was terribly sad and also quite inspiring, I just didn't love it. It was a great, fast read and one I am glad was recommended to me, but it just didn't hit me like I expected it to. I think Peter Barton was an exceptional man and this book was a commemoration of a life very well-lived. I actually found his thoughts on dying and mortality very uplifting, but I kind of wish I got to know him a little better through this book. I loved the honesty and reality in which he and Shames brought forth Peter's story, but I also felt it was filled with a few too many platitudes to really be earth-shattering. I feel like this is kind of a rough review for a very beautifully written book, but "I liked it" is the perfect description. Cheers to you, Peter Barton, on an incredible life and a very touching book.
438 reviews
March 24, 2011
At its best, this book shows a dying man reflecting remarkably calmly on his life and his imminent mortality. But far more of the book simply feels like yet another example of the self-absorption and self-indulgence characteristic of Generation Me. I got tired of hearing how proud he was of how outrageous he was as a youth, or how brilliant and iconoclastic he was as a high-flyer in the worlds of business and politics.
The reason for reading a book like this is to glean unique insights about a process we will all have to go through. Those I found to be few and far between. Perhaps the best was the distinction he drew between "giving up" when fighting a terminal disease -- as if it were a contest that one had failed to win -- and acceptance of an inevitable outcome. But the Serenity Prayer was already there ahead of him. And to learn that it is in small things, small moments, that life's most deeply affecting meaningfulness often lies? Well, perhaps that would be a revelation to a person who had dedicated his life to a Type A lifestyle, but not to many of the rest of us.
Profile Image for John Box.
Author 4 books42 followers
July 19, 2015
Not Fade Away is part biography, part business book, and part coming-to-terms-with-mortality memoir.

Peter Barton was a highly motivated baby boomer who poured everything he had into life. Everything he did, he did full throttle. From being a ski bum to working on political campaigns, to being a cable television pioneer, and to most importantly being a dedicated husband and father.

This book is a wonderful snapshot of a man well worth emulating both personally and professionally. Business-wise, it is highly motivating. Mortality-wise, while death is still my second biggest fear (nothing will ever overtake sock puppets), there is hope here that not only can the terminally ill come to terms with it, but can almost view it as this life’s last adventure. Which hopefully translates to the next life’s first adventure.

I highly recommend this to everyone.
Profile Image for Tobin.
9 reviews16 followers
January 21, 2016
"Seem reckless, but be prepared. Act crazy but do your homework."

"Fear makes us study ourselves, forces us to admit our soft spots, to see where we are vulnerable."

"That excursion on the water taught me that each moment is a life, that life is renewed every time we're walloped by beauty, every time we're shaken up by gratitude and love."

"But here's an odd thing I've noticed about people: If you put aside what they say and look at how people actually live, you'd have to conclude that they believe the opposite."
Profile Image for Eddie Chua.
124 reviews
March 31, 2020
In a mortal world where death is inevitable, yet many not being able to live it the fullest, this is Peter Barton's story of living and enjoying his life, even in the moments just before his death.

There was a quote in side which I feel can be the advise and lesson for the whole book, "Live as though you'll love forever. And be prepared to die tomorrow". If was imaging that if was in a similar situation as Peter, how would my story be laid out. Did i take risks in life or just follow the flow and the programming? Will I go with pleasant memories or will it be regrets? Did I experience life, being engaged to my surroundings or just became a witness and bystander? What are my accomplishments? What is my legacy? These are questions not to be stuck pondering, just a reminder to simply create and be.

I felt a connection to Peter as I read this book, picturing his life as I go though the pages. As I read the closing chapter of author, Laurence Shames, it's the same as how he felt a shame of not having more time to know Peter more. It just shows how life is fragile and it's to make every connection matter, every moment matter. This book is a reminder to me of not wasting life.

Today is my best day!
Profile Image for Jesse.
40 reviews1 follower
February 28, 2021
This is a book you can read in a day, as I did. Really condensed account of a short but remarkable, packed life, and the process of dying.

The structure works well, told as the story of his life, and the story of his illness, intersecting in clever ways, until they converge.

There’s a lot of condensed wisdom and experience in here, and it does a good job of not preaching; we are free to take from it what we want. For my part, I’m grateful he put in the effort to tell his story, and I’m glad to have read it.
Profile Image for Nga Dao Quynh.
44 reviews30 followers
March 16, 2020
A friend recommended it to me after I finished “When breath becomes air”. Another book about death by cancer, (my reading begs the question what I am trying to prepare myself for)

This is one of few books that makes me stop many times just to mull over, wishing I’d remember these words after I finish it, but at the same time I can’t wait to keep reading. While “When breath becomes air” is a call to live a meaningful life, what this book to me is about to live your life as your own.

How many times do I (or you) look around, wonder, and decide that we should aim for the same thing that all our glamourous friends are aiming? Going to that party, looking this way, working in this field, living in that neighborhood? There is no harm in it, but more often than not, we can become ignorant of how we actually want our lives play out.

Meaning is still an important take-away here. But I think he hadn’t focused on finding and living with meaning until his kids were born. It just happens that while Peter Barton tried to live his life to the fullest in his own irreverent reckless way, he touched and inspired people with his spirit.

This book celebrates a life well lived and loved, at the same time naked with mistakes, sometimes confused, and ultimately happy. So many times he played down this event as “his own little death”, but I don’t know how many people can conclude their lives with an astonishing, brilliant and humble way like what he did with this little book.
Profile Image for Jeannette Hartman.
156 reviews2 followers
May 30, 2017
This is a joyful book about dying. If that seems like an existential absurdity, it's not in the hands of author and entrepreneur Peter Barton. Barton, a founder and CEO of Liberty Media and passionate advocate for such innovative programming as the Discovery Channel, Fox Sports Net, Black Entertainment Television and QVC, lived life to the fullest. When he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in his mid-40s, he could look back on a lifetime of powerful experiences and wonderful achievements. His book, co-written with Laurence Shames, is a wise and wonderful meditation on the process of dying with many lessons about living.
Profile Image for Omar.
11 reviews
April 18, 2019
Beautiful book. How I wish it was longer.

Thank you Peter, wherever you are, for inspiring me and I'm sure everyone who has read the book, to never take yourself to seriously and to live life to the fullest. A bit upsetting how readers in the comment section claim the book to be self-serving. The man is in his last moments, and the book is about him, its only fair to let him speak whatever is on his and embellish himself with all the wonderful stories that mightve gone untold if it was for his recounts.

Thank you to Mr Laurence Shames for bringing this beautiful book to life.
Please read the book with an open mind and more importantly, an open heart.
I will cherish it forever.
Profile Image for Michelle.
162 reviews7 followers
July 9, 2009
See, I feel bad not LOVING this book knowing it was his last life wish to give this advice. I just often times found what he was saying to be very repetitive. All nice, helpful things - just a bit of overkill for me. I think the book need more progression and less of the lines "What I learned was two things" for every chapter.

All in all, it's obvious that he was a wonderful man, who lived his life to the fullest and his knowledge and perspective spread to all those who knew him.

The last three chapters made it for me.
Profile Image for Nicole.
30 reviews
January 3, 2021
I was hate reading it half way through. It was a short read and I wanted to finish it, kept hoping it would get better. Look, if you really want to hear a baby boomer go on and on about all the cool things he did in his life (that wouldn't be possible any more), then go for it. The name dropping (Sinatra, Clinton, big media execs,etc. got tiring and boring). So many better books about what it's like to die and so many better books that would catalog someone who had a true impact on many people in a less self serving way.
Profile Image for Andrew Ettinger.
94 reviews2 followers
November 5, 2021
I put this book away when I had 20 pages left, because despite knowing how it ends, I wasn’t ready to read it. Life is complicated, but its lessons are simple. Death is simple, but its lessons are complex.
Profile Image for Bob Hawkins.
39 reviews
December 28, 2015
Autobiography of cable TV mogul reflecting on his life -- as with many deathbed autobiographies it was a bit self-serving...
September 12, 2021
This book may be used as a classic text on the life of an entrepreneur, the risk takers we often hear about but never really know well enough to understand. Most of us work desk jobs hoping for an interesting project or a job that gives us enough time or money to let us do our fulfilling hobbies outside of work. The element of (calculated) risk-taking and the sort of personality that thrives with it is, thus, not well understood, especially in the format of a textbook. With today's "wantrepreneurs" flooding Silicon Valley or otherwise Wall Street-types trying to cash in on the startup frenzy for a quick buck, Barton exudes the ethos of what I believe a true entrepreneur should be like: authentic, caring, and daring.

What makes this autobiography and especially meaningful is that Barton (with Shames) wrote it on his death bed. As Barton is dying of cancer, he remembers not the difficult day-to-day of running Liberty Media or the anxiety over whether the company would succeed, but rather reflects on the quality of choices he made in his life now that it's coming to an end.

Peter Barton begins his life as an American cognizant of his privilege growing up in the economic abundance of 1970s America. He goes to college without a strict sense of what he wants to do but idealistic. He ends up working for the WHO (or UN?) and recognizes that these institutions are built with policies to keep rich countries rich and poor countries poor. Disillusioned, he eventually ends up at Harvard Business School and decided to look only for positions where he work directly for the CEO of the companies he was employed at. Interesting move. Joining the Liberty Media and jointly running it with its founder gave him immense responsibility at a young age. While this may be daunting for some, Barton found it a challenge, and an adventure.

He goes into some details about working at a small company in a growing field (much akin to joining a startup following the growth of a technical trend like AI or Saas in 2021). It's in the career phase of the book that lessons in entrepreneurship start to take hold. For example, Barton relate negotiations to freestyle skiing: if you know how you want to land, you can have as much fun as you want in the air. Similarly, if you go into a negotiation knowing what terms you're willing to accept, you can have fun during the back and forth required to get there. If negotiations are won by the more patient party, this perspective makes a ton of sense. If you know where you want to land and are a doing backflips in the air while the other side is sweating bullets trying to tease apart minutiae of the deal, you might have already won.

I've applied a more general interpretation of this of working backwards for the ends I'd like to meet. With the ambiguity of where I'm headed out of the way, I might be able to reach my destination through a different, more interesting route. Early on in my career, I recognized that promotions were given to those that were the most engaged, hard working, and (usually, consequently) the most productive team members. But I could define what productive meant for myself by allocating myself to teams doing the sort of work I liked and indulged in versus dealing with a team I didn't like and seeing the work to get there as drudgery. Slowly, I'm beginning to realize that this might be the only way to work in a stressful field and not get burnt out. Similarly, there are many ways to be successful in life, and we get to determine how we define success and how we meet that goal in a way that is fun and engaging to ourselves.

So, Barton goes on to successfully run Liberty Media, along the way starting a family, only to develop cancer in his 40s. He says he was so busy "doing" before the cancer that he hardly had time to reflect. Now, when he would go to dinner parties and hear about people talking about the petty issues of their day, those problems seemed small in comparison to the imminent death he faced. Despite the cancer rearing its ugly head relatively early in his life, he felt as though he lived without regret or worry. The only thing that he was worried about was his kids and he regretted not having more time with them.

When he passes at the end of the book, to me it was clear that Barton had achieved a life well lived, despite its abrupt ending, only because he acted bolding and authentically. He was a child of post-war abundance looking for an adventure. He found that adventure and carved a path for himself along with a family he carried alongside him, never losing sight of where he wanted to land. I read this book the summer after college and it was exactly the sort of work I needed to read at 21 to recognize where I wanted to land: with a fulfilling career and family life. No matter what happens in between, I think I can have some fun while I'm in the air.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
643 reviews2 followers
April 12, 2022
A hard book to read and not reflect upon your own life and paths not taken...

Peter Barton, lived and loved hard. He threw himself into whatever he was doing. Born a baby boomer, he played music, protested the war, and as a young man, was a ski bum and threw himself off the mountains with abandon. When he saw that phase waning, he entered Harvard Business school as an 'older student', and embraced risk. That said, he joined a fledgling enterprise that had a vision of what 'cable television' would be, long before what we know now. He met the love of his life in Laura and started a family, vowing never to be that dad that was not there for games and school events. His position in the growing industry allowed him to do that and to retire at an early age in his late 40's .

And then cancer came along. At first there is optimism and hope. He tells of his journey, not in clinical terms, but more about his emotional and spiritual terms, not that he is a member of any religious community. He tells of his experiences (with his co-author, Laurence Shames, who knows him late in life only after he had become sick with whom Peter shares his thoughts.), with humor and no remorse, and no apologies. He acknowledges his failings and deficiencies. But he accepts his fate with humor and peace.

"And now my story is almost over.
Its two strands--the story of my life, the story of my illness--have nearly come together.
I've wanted to believe, I guess, that they'd keep running parallel forever, stretching like a pair of tracks toward a wide horizon that could never be reached. But that isn't how it works in life.
In life, all story lines eventually converge. The adventure that began with my birth in 1951 will end at the exact moment and in the same manner as the drama that started on Pearl Harbor Day of 1998.
Death is the completion. Death is where the horizon finally stops receding. Not a separate thing from life, but life's last resolving chord.
That chord is coming close. I can almost hear it."

Beautiful book that will have you thinking of your own path. It is hard not compare this book with When Breath Becomes Air, by American neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi.
Profile Image for Kasey Lawson.
201 reviews1 follower
May 4, 2022
“Like everybody else, I suppose, I’ve known a fair range of bad feelings in my life. I’ve known worry, anger, loss. But during my early regimens of cancer treatment, when my bodily vigor was being sapped and my sense of strength was being mocked, I had glimpses of something I’d never confronted before, something I’d thought was utterly foreign to my temperament: depression.

Maybe the feeling was a purely chemical reaction to the treatments. Maybe it was an emotional response to my loss of control. Maybe it was the shadow cast by fear. Whatever it was, it was grim. I felt hope ebbing away. It wasn’t just that I was losing the battle, but that I was having ever greater difficulty finding the heart to fight at all.

One day, when my body was wracked and my head ached and my spirits were at their lowest, I said to my wife: “I just don’t see the point.”

Now, my wife Laura is as supportive and kind as a person could possibly be. I’m in awe of her gentleness. But in that moment she was something other than tender; she was absolutely fierce.

Fierce on my behalf—and, I think, on her own. She still had the determination that I was having such a hard time mustering. She still saw value in the struggle. She wasn’t about to let me wallow. She already had enough burdens; she didn’t want to cater to someone who had given up.

“So FIND one!” she declared.”
127 reviews2 followers
May 26, 2022
Peter Barton died young which is always a tragedy. He seemed like a nice man but who really knows? This is an autobiography and I'm sure there are many parts of Barton's meteoric rise to fame and success in the cable TV industry that have two sides to them. This is an ego project, nothing more, nothing less. Barton's life, as he describes it, was certainly interesting and filled with great little anecdotes but I don't know Barton any better now after reading this book than I did before. He tends toward self-aggrandizement a lot all throughout the book; he lives his life in 5th speed all the time, he changes career tracks on a whim because he's just too unpredictable and wild, he takes idiotic chances with his physical safety, but always is sure to stick the landing. That's a guy creating a narrative of how he wants to be remembered. Barton was a very successful businessman and he seems to have approached his death thoughtfully and even philosophically - there is enough emotionally catastrophic metaphysical wonderings on life and death in the book to forgive the myopic history-making of his youth. The book should be shortened to a "Deep Thoughts" list of the best of Barton's musings on mortality - that would make a much better read.
Profile Image for Ted Haussman.
358 reviews
June 20, 2017

The final memento of a dying man, who succeeded wildly in the cable industry, only to find his life cut short when diagnosed with terminal cancer in his late 40's. Courageously, the author fought to the end, gaining perspective on his life and untimely death, facing it with wonder and finally acceptance, even if that word were somewhat distasteful to him. It's mostly written by Peter Barton, but with some contextual coloring by the co-author who befriended and came to know Barton in his dying months, weeks, and days. While I enjoyed the heartfelt perspective and courage, the book hinted at some of the man's harder edges in the prime of his life and yet papered them over, coloring my view of him a little.

That said, I'm the richer for reading it, especially that I'm squarely in that part of my life where he was grappling with the end of his.
Profile Image for Dom.
104 reviews4 followers
July 17, 2022
A short, intimate piece with many thoughts and insights for a more meaning- and joyful life. Not new, but personable and touching. The "arrogance of health" especially struck a cord with me. May it nudge me towards more empathy. I also loved the guidance in the simple "this isn't a résumé, this is life." A Kintsugi Rhapsody!

Act crazy, but do your homework. Accumulate experiences, not money beyond the elusive "enough" moment. Arrogance of health. Don't let the body infect the mind. Honesty over consistency. Humility from death. Live fully, not forcibly in a straight line. Live with the intensity of here. Pile up experience, don't find meaning. Rhapsodize, not only analyze. Seem reckless, but be prepared. Stay (measured) risky! Work, mustn't be a grudging exchange of time for money.
Profile Image for Alexander Rivas.
378 reviews14 followers
January 8, 2019
I enjoy books written by authors that are on the brink of death. My statement might sound harsh being that my enjoyment comes from someone dying, but I find it such a unique experience to write on that few people ever take the time to write about. The author led a fantastic life with incredible experiences and shared his journey and approach to life. As a father, it saddens me to think what it will feel like to leave your kids behind and books like this one remind me that you never know when you're going to go.
5 reviews
March 24, 2019
This book should be more Well Known! Not Fade Away is a beautifully composed book that encompasses the adventures - humdingers, the good, & the bad stuff - of a life well lived. By that description you’d think this book is long and tedious , though it is NOT. I read it in two days and as someone who has dyslexia, I can say it was an “easy read” and obviously worth your time. I’m not the type to give books to everyone for gifts, though you can bet that I will confidently hand over copies of this to my family members.
Profile Image for Kyle.
198 reviews1 follower
September 5, 2022
In Not Fade Away, Laurence Shames and Peter Barton work together to understand and describe the feelings and thoughts of Peter as he goes through the end stages of terminal cancer. The book, written mostly from Peter's perspective captures some of his achievements, including a highly successful business career, while also providing the unique perspective of someone passing away from cancer in his late 40s. The book is a great read for anyone trying to reconcile their own mortality or that of a loved one and what life means.
October 18, 2020
I love this book! "I promised myself that I wouldn't have a bad day for the rest of my life. If someone was wasting my time, I'd excuse myself and walk away. If a situation bothered me or refused to get resolved, I'd shrug and move on. I'd squander no energy on petty annoyances, poison no minutes with useless regret. I'd make a point of noticing the small of the air, the shifting light on the mountains."
Profile Image for Hayley Dyer.
94 reviews13 followers
July 24, 2017
This is one of the best books I have read all year. Peter wrote a graceful, thought-provoking book to deal with his early death. This book reminded me of the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, and I think every person, both living and dying, should read this book - it's definitely changed my life and reminded me to keep my dreams on the front burner.
Profile Image for Diana.
126 reviews19 followers
February 28, 2019
Beautifully written, self deprecating at times, and often hilarious, this memoir is truly a gem.

When cancer surprises Peter Barton, he recenters himself and lives his life to the fullest with determination. This book follows his journey post-diagnosis through his own eyes, and those of his confidant, Laurence Shames.

Full review to come later
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