Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review: The Last Lecture

Title: The Last Lecture
Author: Randy Pausch
ISBN: 978-1-4013-2325-7
Pages: 210
Release Date: April 8, 2008
Publisher: Hyperion
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Summary: A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave—“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”—wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

My thoughts: I was fortunate to win a wonderful box of "goodies" from RIF: Reading is Fundamental, Inc. which I discovered through Carol at her blog,
Rasco from RIF. The box contained beautiful books for children, bookmarks, bookplates, a Snuggi (which the cats quickly took over! lol) and a pretty, little book, "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. I read about this book when it was published and I knew the story behind it. I'd always wanted to read it so I was thrilled that this was part of my gift package from RIF.

"The Last Lecture" is a well-known series of talks given by professors on many campuses. Professors reflect on their career and what they want or hope their legacy will be when they are no longer with us. The idea is that the audience will ponder what matters most to them and what they hope to leave behind when their time comes. Carnegie Mellon calls the last lectures "Journeys' now but for Randy Pausch purposes it really was to be his "Last Lecture". Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year before the lecture, and a week prior to giving it, he was told by his doctors that the cancer was terminal. He had 3-6 months to live. Although he looked like a healthy man the day he stood on the stage and delivered his lecture, he was anything but.

Randy considered not giving it as his priority was spending the time he had left with his wife and three children. He decided, though, that this lecture was the best way to tell his children everything he would if he was around while they were growing up. Randy gave his last lecture to tell his children who their dad was and what he was like.

Randy Pausch was honest and forthright with a great sense of humor. In this book, He shared the lessons he's learned in life from others and in his teaching career that helped him become the man he was. Pausch believed in dreams and working hard to make your dreams happen. He also believed strongly in the notion of passing on what you've learned to those around you, helping them to achieve their dreams. Pausch had several big dreams as a child including "being in zero gravity" and "being a Disney Imagineer". He recounts how he attempted to make all of his childhood dreams come true and the terrific times he had even when things didn't quite work out. Pausch was very grateful for his parents and eagerly credited those who helped him grow into the man he became.

Pausch admited to being arrogant and obnoxious as a young man and honored a few people for teaching him to be more humble and less boastful about what he knew. Many of the lessons he learned when he was younger he incorporated into his teaching career at Carnegie Mellon where he excelled as a professor of computer studies and human behavior. He recounted many stories from his life, each ending with a lesson about overcoming obstacles or helping others accomplish their dreams.

Pausch mentioned his wife and children frequently, reminding us of the real purpose behind this lecture. In this light, sections of the book such as "Tell the Truth", "A Bad Apology is Worse Then No Apology" and "Don't Obsess Over What People Think" don't have an arrogant, self-righteous tone. Rather, they are the words of a concerned and caring father to his children. Still, Pausch's relentlessly positive attitude and approach to everything as a life-lesson might seem excessive to some readers. Aside from the diagnosis of terminal cancer, which is terrible, Pausch implies that nothing else in his life has ever really upset him for long. When his wife, the woman of his dreams, broke up with him just before they were to move in together, for example, he calls his wife a "brick wall". As such, "brick walls are there to make us show we want something badly enough". Taking the ubiquitous optimism in stride, this is a beautiful story about a father's legacy to his children but it can also serve as a self-help model to those who choose to take Randy Pausch's hard learned lessons to heart.


  1. This sounds really interesting. I like the fact that it includes life lessons to his children rather than just academic lectures.

  2. I have this book, but have not gotten around to reading it. Thanks for the review.

  3. My mom has this and really liked it. She usually passes books on to me but this one must have gone to someone else first. Could it be possible that she thinks I have too many books already back up to read? Surely not!

  4. I'd love to read this book, but I'm sure I'd sob through the whole thing. Great review.

  5. I saw the video clip of this lecture when it was all over the internet, but haven't read the book yet. My sister has a copy, but I think she loaned it to my mother first and then to another sister. It should get to me eventually!

  6. This is probably one of those books to read when you wake up and find your priorities all out of control. It is good to set yourself right, and these types of books help. But like Kathy, in the right mood, I think I'd cry myself into a mess! Awesome review!

  7. I feel exactly the same way as Kathy. I want to read it, but am afraid I couldn't even see the words because of sobbing!

  8. I heard about Randy about a year before he passed away and had been following his website. He was also on Oprah and although his story is a tough one to listen to, I was not sad at all. His talks were very inspirational and he was very open at all times about his prognosis. His positive attitude is what kept me from bawling.

  9. this is another one of those books that I just must read.

  10. I think this book would really make me cry. I'm sure that it is a wonderful read.