The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 19, 2009

Book review: 'Last Lecture' should have been read sooner


“The Last Lecture”

By Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

I am generally not someone who gushes over books, particularly non-fiction titles, but “The Last Lecture” inspired and impressed me so much, I can not say enough about it. I will admit that I bought this book not long after it was published and it sat on my nightstand for quite awhile. I buy few non-fiction books in the first place (no need since the library is very handy!) so for me to buy it and have it sit, is unusual. I should have read it immediately. It will be one I reread and reread.

The “Last Lecture” series at Carnegie Mellon University is a series of lectures given by people, often university professors, who are to talk about “their personal and professional journeys.” When Randy Pausch was asked to give his “last lecture,” he knew it would truly be his last lecture.

Pausch had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of cancer, with a life expectancy of three to six months. He wanted this lecture to be his legacy to his family and his way of communicating all the life lessons he would not be able to teach his young children himself. The lecture was to be videotaped for his family so his children could view it later in life. (The lecture may be watched in its entirety on YouTube, where it has been viewed over 8 million times.)

The book expands on his talk through a number of short chapters divided into sections. Pausch talks about the lecture, growing up, his dreams, his career, Jai, his wife, and their three children in these five sections. He takes the reader through his life starting with the last lecture before going back to his childhood years and moving forward through his life.

All of the sections reflect how he lived his life before and after his diagnosis but it is Section V that talks about how people should live their lives. In fairness to the reader he qualifies the section by saying “This section may be called ‘It’s About How to Live Your Life,’ but it’s really about how I’ve tried to live mine. I guess it’s my way of saying: Here’s what worked for me.”

Most of what he talks about should not be new to readers as the lessons should be things we learned growing up. The short chapters talk about what he truly believes: “Dream Big” (how he missed seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and the lesson learned by missing it), “Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder” (complaining takes up too much energy), “Don’t Obsess Over What People Think” (your wasting your time), “No Job is Beneath You” (the perceived entitlement among younger people today), “Show Gratitude” and two of my favorites, “Get in Touch with Your Crayon Box,” where Pausch talks about carrying around a crayon (usually black or white) to be reminded of your child and how things are not always right or wrong; and “Watch What They Do, Not What They Say,” his dating advice for his 18-month old daughter and his two sons.

Randy Pausch was not perfect and he did not get a miracle cure — he passed away on July 25, 2008. He did try to live his life simply, with joy, happiness, love, respect and no regrets. He tried to be Tigger, not Eeyore in this not-so-perfect world in which we all live.

This is a relatively short book that is very easy to read. And while the lecture was taped as a means of communicating his life and beliefs to his children, the book gives even more. This is one of the best, most honest and inspiring books I have read in a long time. A must read for everyone.

Susan Wray is the director of the Joplin Public Library.