Book Review: Chasing Daylight

I’ve been on vacation this week from everything remotely work related – including all electronic forms such as email, phone, blog reading, and blogging.  Amy and I take a week once every quarter where I “go dark.” A few people know how to find me if there’s an emergency, but they do their best to protect me from myself.

We were originally planning to go to the Bahamas for a week but I came down with a cold last Thursday.  We punted our trip for a few days and then – after realizing how much we love being in Boulder – decided to stay home for the week, but not tell anyone.  We’ve had an awesome week hanging out, being completely anonymous, enjoying downtown Boulder (we’ve gone into Amy’s office every day to write and think), being together, and reading.

I wasn’t going to surface until tomorrow, but yesterday I read what I believe will easily qualify (at least in my book ranking system) as one of the best books of the year, if not the decade.  I’m not sure what category to put it in – it fits equally nicely in memoir, business, philosophy, and self-help.  The book is Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly.

Last year, O’Kelly was CEO of KPMG, and going 100 miles an hour when he was suddenly diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.  He quickly comes to terms with the idea that he has less than 100 days left to live and takes immediate action.  He determines to have the greatest possible existence during those last 100 days, systematically saying goodbye to all the people that have touched his life, trying to have as many “perfect moments” as possible, to live always in the present, and to chronicle the experience of dying as one of his last acts on this planet. 

While the quality of the writing deteriorates as O’Kelly does, the power of the book steadily increases.  I finished it in the waning light of day yesterday, O’Kelly’s favorite time on the golf course and the source of the key metaphor (“chasing daylight”) for the book.  I read it in a room by myself, in total quiet, and found myself completely absorbed for the entirety of the book, which always signals that I’ve found something special.

O’Kelly isn’t perfect, nor does he try to be.  But – he’s intensely real.  The boundedness of this experience comes through in his writing and helps calibrate the experience of life.  The answers (including mine) to the cliched question “what would you do differently if you knew you had 100 days” are usually trite.  O’Kelly addresses it head on and really gives the reader something to think about.

Mortality – which we face every second of every day – is on naked display in this book.  I learned a lot, even though I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my life and what I want to get out of each moment.  When I read the Amazon reviews after I read the book, I was surprised by the bimodal nature of the reviews – they were either 5’s or 1’s.  This was a 5 for me and a book that I recommend every “hard working, accomplishment driven person” read and ponder.

  • Aaron Woodin

    For every person like Kelly who has an abundance of money, friends and business associates with whom to surround himself with in that situation, there are uncounted thousands who die like that utterly destitute and alone, with no resources whatsoever to construct “perfect moments” for themselves.
    Who speaks or mourns for them? Who writes or publishes a book for them?

  • Aaron, this is a completely vapid statement.

    I had the honor of knowing Gene and the pleasure of reading his book. Gene was a compassionate and caring man. He was a role model of Humaneness that touched everyone who knew him. When I first met Gene 25+ years ago, he was already a person of profound integrity and authenticity. He was neither indulged or self-indulgent.

    This comment suggests a superficiality that was not Gene, nor is his book. His book is a personal statement about dying well as part of living a complete life.

    Thousands do die every day. Death is part of Life. Gene’s passing was a tragedy and an inevitability, as it will be for every one of us.

  • My friend Chris reviewed this on his blog a few weeks ago and I immediately added it to my Amazon list. Sounds great.

    Active thinking about death and mortality is an excellent exercise to make each moment in the here and now extraordinary.

    The example I always use is stolen from Heidi R.: There’s always the possibility that I walk out across a street one day and get hit by a bus. Knowing that possibility, how do I want to live my life TODAY?

  • Thanks for the tip on the book. It sounded interesting so I picked it up on my walk home last night. I read about two-thirds of it last night, and it’s certainly hitting home – it’s very moving. Just wanted to say thanks for the review.

  • Learned about it on your blog and just finished reading it. Great book. Ironically enough I found myself asking my wife and kids to leave me alone until I finished it. Now I need to go hug them.

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