Book Brief: “On Fire” by John O’Leary


on fireOn Fire

John O’Leary

2016, Gallery Books

The Idea

This book is a combination of autobiography and motivational tome. As a nine year-old, John O’Leary was burned over 100% of his body. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night, but yet here he is today as an adult, sharing seven life views on how to live a “radically inspired life”. As the book sleeve states, “Once expected to die, John O’Leary now teaches others how to truly live.”

Recommended For

Anyone who feels stuck in a rut, appreciates positivity or who simply needs a half full vs. half empty life adjustment, whether in your personal or business life.

The Pros

This is a well-written book. It reads as a story, inspires the reader to ask ”what happens next?” and provides just the right amount of character development (of O’Leary himself as well as those who influenced his life) to be engaging. He masterfully rolls his story and experiences into seven life-giving choices, the seven choices to ignite a radically inspired life. Each chapter focuses one of these choices and  ends with a one-page recap, which is succinctly titled with that chapter’s choice and supported by multiple one sentence cues found in that chapter. Not only does it help to pull the various stories together, but it makes it easy to refer to the choices long after you’ve completed the book.

The Cons

This is a story of triumph over tragedy. To fully explore the triumph, O’Leary delves deep into the tragedy. If you are squeamish about hospitals, injuries and physical rehabilitation, there will be points in the story that will be unnerving. I am in that category, but the anxiety those descriptions created actually helped bring his idea to life. Also, O’Leary comes from a spiritual family, lives a very spiritual life and credits a large portion of his recovery and life meaning to a higher power, which can be disconcerting to a reader who doesn’t share his level of spirituality.

My Take

I am a library fan. Very rarely do I purchase a book as a first read.  I borrowed this book from the library and even before I finished it, I bought a copy. I wanted to have a copy for my teenage sons to read, to be able to refer to those end of chapter capsules when life gets challenging and as a physical reminder that good things can come out of hard times. The lessons O’Leary shares apply to life, to relationships, to business. Obviously, he shares them from his perspective, but also shares insights from his siblings, his parents (who wrote their own book, “Overwhelming Odds” in 2004), his caregivers and a few other influential people he met along the way which provides a richness to each choice.

This book speaks to me as I continue to work on my own “half-empty/ half-full” world view. The humanity of the story and the ignition points, as O’Leary calls them, combined with the practicality of the book’s format are a great combination.

Shared Insight

My husband loves a good life lesson book disguised as a business book read, so I encouraged him to read it on a business trip. We spoke during that trip and I eagerly asked for his thoughts, thinking he’d think it was amazing as I did. “How could you encourage me to read a book like this that would make me cry on the plane?”, he asked. What? Turns out, I was so inspired by O’Leary’s story-telling, his encapsulation of the seven choices and book’s readability, that it didn’t occur to me how my husband’s life experiences would filter his view of the book.  My husband was that sibling – as a small child, my brother-in-law burned his hands on the stove and endured many of the hospital stays and painful physical therapy session O’Leary described in the book.

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