Monday, March 4, 2013

To the Last Breath by Francis Slakey

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.

From the publisher:
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 decade-long journey veered dangerously off course, everything about him began to change.

A gripping adventure of the body and mind, To the Last Breath depicts in crystal-clear prose the quest that led Slakey around the glob, challenged his fiercely held beliefs, and opened his heart. Expanding his tale with riveting science and arresting insight into our relation to the earth and one another, Slakey takes readers across the plateaus of Tibet, into the heat of Tanzania, to the desolate edge of the Arctic, and beyond.

My thoughts:
I started reading this book because mountain climbing and surfing had always appealed to me, and thought this book would be about Slakey's record climbing/surfing. By the final chapters, however, it was evident that there was much more to this story than meets the eye. Slakey shows a marvelous progression from objective to subjective writing. Details about mountain climbing or surfing are ignored, and instead, Slakey talks more and more about the people he met along his journey, and the many lessons he learned as a result of his interactions with these people. I couldn't help but cheer when he returns from his trip to Antarctica determined to be more sociable and get to know people better, mostly because that's how I've always lived my life (I think/hope). You can't go through life in a shell of isolation and mechanical behavior. Life's all about leaving your mark on everyone you come into contact with, and having your life marked by all the people you yourself meet. And to be quite frank, I learned more about Buddhism and the interconnectedness of the human race through this memoir than through any classes/lectures that I've had on the subject. I am definitely going to be finding more reading material on this religion, and the remarkable people that follow it.
I also kind of wish I wasn't typing this on a laptop right now; being less materialistic and reliant on technology is something I've toyed around with in the past, and it'd be rather refreshing to truly be able to follow through on that. What sucks is that living in this country in this day and age, it really is almost impossible to go without material goods for longer than a couple days. People continue to be surprised that I managed it for a week when I lost power after Hurricane Sandy, not realizing just how easy it really can be to turn everything off and enjoy the peace and relaxation that follows. It really was peaceful without a phone/computer/television, seriously.

I'll leave you all with a few inspirational quotes I found throughout this book that I really liked:
- We are in a world of darkness, and people are sleeping through it.
- Do not believe because it is written in a book. Do not believe because it has been handed down for generations. If after observation and analysis, if it agrees with reason and can benefit one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
- Some things stand apart from scientific calculation. Those things are the stories, the color, the texture of life and reducing them to equations would be like trying to trap a warm welcome breeze in my fist.
- You only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough.

Justin :)

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