Book Review: "To the Last Breath" by Francis Slakey
A Georgetown professor chronicles his climbing and surfing adventures.
Reviewed By John Wilwol
Georgetown’s Francis Slakey tells harrowing—and warm—stories of his adventures. Photograph by Matthew Girard.
Comments () | Published May 8, 2012
Book Review: "To the Last Breath" by Francis Slakey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price: $15.00

Francis Slakey's new book, To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes, opens with one of the most terrifying moments in nonfiction this year. On a cot pinned to the face of El Capitan, some 2,000 feet above California's Yosemite Valley, Slakey wakes in the middle of the night and realizes his gear is failing.

"In a few more seconds the webbing will come completely undone and our cot will drop out from under us," he writes. "There is nothing we can do to stop that from happening."

To the Last Breath promises the kind of chest-thumping adventure chronicle you'd expect from the first man to climb the Seven Summits and to surf all the world's oceans. But after that initial adrenaline shot, Slakey settles into an unexpectedly warm memoir of how his journey helped him overcome a profound sense of loss-induced detachment.

The Upjohn lecturer on physics and public policy at Georgetown University, Slakey writes touchingly about the kindness of those he meets along the way and with precision about a range of scientific fare, from the physics of ocean waves to the way a climber's body shuts down on Everest. He also can be droll--calling, say, his surfing/climbing record "the first global surf-n-turf."

But let's give the last word on To the Last Breath to Lama Kinle, a Buddhist monk Slakey meets in Bhutan. "If you get to the end of your life and you have regrets that you could have done better," he says through his translator, "then you blew it."

This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.


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  • Bdiner

    To the Last Breath: a Memoir of Going to Extremes is a riveting read from beginning to end and I promise you won't want to put this one down. This book chronicles the true story of one man’s quest to surf every ocean and climb the highest peak on every continent. Much more than a climbing and surfing adventure story, it is a rich and beautifully written memoir filled with nail biting adventure, international political intrigue, love and a personal spiritual awakening. Dr. Slakey takes you his life adventure and shares a very personal and rich life story. This is truly a book not to be missed and one that you will be proud to share with family and friends.

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Posted at 11:20 AM/ET, 05/08/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Books