Books

Lessons from The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Book Review:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Poignant, heartfelt message
  • Simple, conversational writing
  • Likeable narrator
  • Unusual perspective on life from a dying man

Cons

  • Some advice is not that helpful or is out of touch with his diverse audience

Observations

  • Short, anecdotal chapters

Review

The Last Lecture was published in 2008 and is written by a professor from Carnegie Mellon named Randy Pausch with help from Jeffrey Zaslow. Carnegie Mellon is somewhat well-known for its last lectures, in which professors are expected to give a lecture as if it were there last, considering their own demise and what is most important to them. Most of those who gave such a speech were not truly dying.

That is not the case with Randy Pausch.

Randy was given a few months to live shortly before he gave his very literal last lecture. He died in 2008, which is the same year that this book was published. He had pancreatic cancer, which has the highest mortality rate of any cancer. He knew he would leave behind his three young children and his loving wife.

Despite this grim future, Randy’s last lecture is filled with with hope, optimism, and humor. He leaves a beautiful legacy to his children in the form of the recorded lecture as well as this published book. And he gives a little advice on living to those of us who are living our daily lives without our mortality hanging over us like the pendulum in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum.

He chose the topic of “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” for the primary focus of his lecture and the book.

He explains how he was able to really achieve most of his childhood dreams, including being an Imagineer at Disney and meeting William Shatner (who played Captain Kirk from Star Trek). Shatner even sent him a picture of Captain Kirk with the quote “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario” written on it after Shatner learned of Randy’s diagnosis.

Much of his advice is helpful, but not particularly remarkable. The better pieces of advice include tips for managing limited time and how to give a proper apology. If he could give only one piece of advice, he said it would be “tell the truth.”

Some advice seemed to not be as helpful or insightful because it failed to consider the audience. For example, the suggestion that one should always keep $200 in one’s pocket is a piece of advice many people from the wide audience of his book would find difficult or impossible.

Even though he admits he won the lottery of life when it came to family and his social situation, his continual emphasis on the importance of hard work to achieve your dreams falls a little flat at times. Sure, some of his achievements were the pure result of hard work, but many of them came from knowing the right person and having connections. For example, he was rejected for a position for professor at Carnegie Mellon, but then his friend pulled some strings to get him the opportunity to get the position anyway.

That being said, Randy was funny and endearing as a narrator, and I was swept up in the emotion of knowing he was going to die–in fact, at the time I read it this year, he had already been dead for more than ten years.

I would recommend this book for anyone who appreciates inspirational books and is interested in what wisdom a dying man would impart.

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