Troy University Common Reading Initiative: ‘To the Last Breath’


A story of life changing adventures and intrigue, “To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes” was the book chosen for this year’s Common Reading Initiative (CRI). The initiative is part of Troy’s Quality Enhancement Plan.

The reading initiative, begun in 2007 with “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, is now in its seventh year. The program is intended to engage freshmen in reading, discussion and campus activities.

When asked how he felt about the reading initiative, Michael Brinson, a sophomore music education major from Troy, Ala., said, “The reading initiative gives freshmen who might not have a lot in common something they can talk about.”

“To the Last Breath” is only the third nonfiction title to be part of the CRI, following “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” by Janisse Ray and “The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson.

“To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes” deals with surfing, mountaineering, globe-trotting and Antarctic expeditions. However, at its core “To the Last Breath” is about the extreme personal growth of its author, Francis Slakey. Slakey’s memoir covers how his travels transform his entire view of life, himself and the interconnectedness of the world.

Slakey, the Upjohn Lecturer on Physics and Public Policy at Georgetown as well as the Associate Director of Public Affairs at the American Physical Society, founded and is co-director of the Program on Science in the Public Interest. This program helps students from various disciplines work together to identify and solve problems facing the modern world.

Slakey begins his journey an emotionless academic. He teaches only to fund his travels, and he maintains as few connections as possible. Commitments serve only to tie him down, preventing his next great adventure.

Slakey’s journey of self-discovery begins when he sets out to climb the highest peaks on every continent and surf in every ocean.  Accomplishing this goal would make him the first person in the world to have done both.

The book has both exciting adventures that will keep you on the edge of your seat and warm recollections of the kindness Dr. Slakey encountered in his travels.

Among the stories recounted in the book are Slakey’s Everest climb and a near-fatal equipment malfunction on the side of El Capitan in California. These stories are laced with a great deal of scientific and historical information.

Slakey discusses the physics of the ocean and the effects of climate on the human anatomy. He also discusses the history of the places he visits and previous expeditions into such dangerous territory.

“To the Last Breath” paints a portrait of a man in metamorphosis. Slakey grows out of his own darkness, opens up to the world and even finds love.

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