The expressive story of a conflicted professor who broke free to embrace and nurture his audacious, extremist nature.
At age 14, Slakey (Physics and Public Policy/Georgetown Univ.) recalls becoming inspired by mountaineer Warren Harding, but that was years after his mother died of cancer. That tragic event, coupled with the accidental death of his best friend years later, left the author detached from society as an unmoored troublemaker and poor student. After chronicling his background, Slakey then discusses his 10-year journey to ascend each continent’s highest mountain peaks and ride every ocean’s waves. The memoir skips around from past to present before finally settling in to focus on Slakey’s “eleven-item climbing and surfing list.” He braved frigid, hypoxic conditions on Mount Everest, scaled Antarctica’s gelid Vinson Massif and averted slaughter at an armed Indonesian separatist ambush, an event that garnered national media attention. The author provides plenty of suspenseful moments—e.g., the opening sequence in which a detached, mangled cot precariously dangled him and his climbing partner off an El Capitan rock wall. Ultimately, his life-turnabout resulted in his becoming a married homeowner offering interactive lectures and eco-consciousness classes at Georgetown.
What begins as a shock-factor memoir of an adrenaline junkie with a death wish concludes with great heart and promise.