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Book Review: The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture book review. Seems easy enough to do. But this book has haunted me, making the task of reviewing it slippery and elusive.

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Cynicism is hip and it’s trendy to be jaded. I’m not immune to it. I learned recently, however, that I’m also not immune to inspiration. There are things that don’t make me roll my eyes. Events that give me perspective. I wouldn’t call The Last Lecture a book. I would call it an event. So many people say that a book has changed their life. They never change. Me either. But this is something very different.

The Last Lecture makes me want to be a better person

Randy Pausch taught computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. As a husband and father of three young children, his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2006 was a devastating blow to him and his family. There is no cure–Randy was told he could expect another three to six months.

Randy Pausch lived until July of 2008, exceeding the doctor’s expectations. Before he passed, he gave his own version of “The Last Lecture.” The Last Lecture is a university tradition in which a professor who is retiring distills his teaching and life experience into one final lesson. It is the last chance to say “You were my students, this is exactly what I wish for you to remember me by.”

Pausch’s lecture was called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The body of the lecture comprises stories from Randy’s life which illustrate different ways in which he achieved his childhood dreams.

Few things are indescribable. The Last Lecture is really, really, really hard to describe, and I’m pretty good with words. Just typing this out brings the book back to me and I’m sitting here with goosebumps trying not to let my eyes tear up. I have never been this affected by a book. I doubt I ever will be again, unless one of his children decides to write a book about their dad. Actually, I hope I am never more affected a book: I’m not sure I could survive it.

Cynicism and pessimism are overrated

Going into more detail would cheat readers of the joy and heartbreak of letting this book unfold for them. I’ve been forcing it on anyone who will listen, especially my loved ones. How nice it is to realize that people can still be scientific, brilliant, educated, kind, compassionate, and optimistic. How wonderful that Randy Pausch left us all with such an exquisite gift.

I believe everybody should own The Last Lecture. If you never buy it, please check it out at the library. You’ll be doing yourself a favor. Then give it to someone you love.


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  • David Cain May 6, 2009, 12:43 pm

    Few things are indescribable. The Last Lecture is really, really, really hard to describe, and I’m pretty good with words. Just typing this out brings the book back to me and I’m sitting here with goosebumps trying not to let my eyes tear up. I have never been this affected by a book.

    Well, ya sold me. I just ordered it.

  • Megan Horton May 6, 2009, 1:23 pm

    Is this the book by the guy that did the last lecture on Oprah about a year ago? Josh don’t make fun of me for getting some of my news from Oprah.

  • Josh Hanagarne May 6, 2009, 1:46 pm

    Yeah, Megan, this is the one, although I found it without Ms. O’s help. Anyways, once in a while she gets it right–this is one.

  • Erik May 6, 2009, 2:07 pm

    I read this book earlier this year. Awesome book, very inspiring. It made me want to make more of my life. Great review, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Everyone should read this book.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 6, 2009, 2:12 pm

      Glad you read it Erik. Did you finish The Burn Journals?

  • Erik Strong May 6, 2009, 2:27 pm

    I will finish it this week. It’s a been a great read so far. Thanks for recommending it.

  • Megan Horton May 6, 2009, 2:52 pm

    The show was sad. It made me cry. I’ll have to check out the book. Was Oprah wrong when she fed your family free KFC??

  • Carol Dalton May 9, 2009, 8:19 am

    When I read The Last Lecture I drove everyone crazy telling them about it then. Truly it is an amazing book. I was inspired by Randy’s wife as well as.

  • Marie June 25, 2009, 12:46 am

    I remember first learning about Randy Pausch while watching tv. The news announcer said “at the age of …, Randy Pausch has died” and I remember thinking “Who is that?” After watching the story about him I then watched clips of his “last lecture’ on Youtube. I bought the book as soon as I could and I plan to read it at least once every two years until I can remember all the main points. It was indeed an event to read The Last Lecture.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 25, 2009, 6:36 am

      I think your two year plan is wise and will be rewarding as your own perspectives change with time.

  • Pat Steer (Gaelen) August 9, 2009, 9:09 am

    Josh, I read your guest post today at Problogger (great post, btw) and then came here and have been exploring your blog. Your characterization of ‘The Last Lecture’ is exactly right…to paraphrase Pausch in one of his interviews, ‘give me the opportunity’ to be so affected by another book. Thanks for making my morning more interesting!

  • CFL September 21, 2009, 5:09 pm

    I wrote a paper about this lecture as part of a class on Authorial Intention and Hermeneutics. It was amazing to see what was originally a talk evolve into a media spanning phenomenon. As I wrote the paper the lecture went from moderately viewed internet phenomenon to a book deal to an Oprah interview.

  • Carlon Haas January 21, 2010, 8:46 pm

    I absolutely agree with your review. The books is hard to describe. But I did particularly Pauch’s vies on education and his role as a teacher.

    The part where he describes his feelings about his kids growing up without him were hardest to rad. Anyone with kids knows the feeling.