The Last Lecture: Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow

Afternoon wonderful readers; it’s finally Friday and despite a heavy week of working, reading and blogging it’s been a rosy seven days overall. Today’s review is one my father implored me to read a couple of weeks back. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post my father is a little like me, constantly with his nose in a book. He prefers to read rather gruesome thrillers with a religious twist however once in a blue moon our tastes align. This is one of those days and today’s review will be incredibly heartfelt especially due to the nature of the book and my dad’s passing of it onto me. It’s not often I say this but everyone should read this book and I’m going to explain why.

This book in a nutshell follows the last few months of Randy Pausch’s life as he begins to lose his battle with pancreatic cancer. After a resilient attack on the vicious disease a scan to see the progress of the treatment shows the disease has spread to his liver; ten tumors that will not and cannot be beaten. Randy, father to three adorable children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe and adoring husband to the delightful Jai is asked to give one last lecture. Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture”, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, at Carnegie Mellon University on September 18, 2007. The Last Lecture as a book fleshes out Pausch’s lecture and discusses everything he wanted his children to know after his pancreatic cancer had taken his life; the book details his life working from university, to Disney , to CMU and forwards to his last days.

I guess that’s the easiest way to sum up the physical book in a couple of sentences but this book is so much more than that. It is utterly beautiful from the first word to the very, very last and you can’t say that for many. I was pulled along awe-struck by the compassion, dark humor and strength of the truly inspirational Randy Pausch. The book revolves around Randy’s belief that despite his life coming to an end much sooner than planned, with both the strength and clearness of thought that perhaps only a person facing death can muster the book, outlines his recipe for a happy life and achieving all your dreams.

He talks of reaching his childhood goals of including ‘floating,’  (experiencing zero gravity,) the utter delight of being asked to write an article in the World Book Encyclopedia, winning giant stuffed animals at amusement parks and bringing them home as trophies and being a Disney “imagineer.” Randy continually talks of scaling the walls and achieving your childhood dreams. Despite being a self-confessed former jerk at university, Randy was pushed and cultured by the people around him; friends, teachers, his parents, a football coach and in 1998, he went on to be a co-founder, along with Don Marinelli, of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC.) He later started the Building Virtual Worlds course at CMU and is also the founder of the Alice software project, a project that will run way into the future teaching children animation skills that will help to form the computer scientists of the future. He’s built a legacy built solely on his desperation to fulfil those things he wanted to as a child.

What makes this book so special is the style of writing; it has an upbeat simplicity and the lucidity to tell the reader exactly how it is with a cold accurate eye. But it’s not a negative, but the honest truth that whatever life throws at you, no matter how difficult it all seems that ‘the brick walls aren’t there to keep us out, the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.’ The writing style although autobiographical and told in a lecture style is written with flair and pace. We are told towards the beginning that the book was scripted by a close friend of Randy’s (jeffrey Zaslow) who listened to hours of audio spoken by the author which was then structured and edited into the final draft we see today. By it being written in this way he is speaking directly to us and all the little stories and tit-bits of advice become even more personal.

The book is a mix of stories past and present as he tries to set out a life for his family whilst he has gone whilst also describing the life he has already lived. He advises parents to let their children paint on their bedroom walls, (Randy as a child drew elevator buttons, a quadratic equation and a rocket amongst others after his parents allowed it.) He tells of stories of his parents, and leaning back on dining room chairs, with the agreement that until the chair broke Randy’s mother would not say a word. The story of how Jai his wonderful wife was the hardest brick wall to scale. The stories are heart-felt but told in a matter of fact manner, smartly spelled out with a dry and often dark sense of humor but they are empathetic and honest and overall teaching a lesson in every single one. My favorites revolved around those of his parents and their rational sense of humor but utter devotion to their son.

As I neared the end, and saw the pages left to read were getting less and less I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I can honestly say that this book will stay with me long after I turn the final pages and give the book back to my father. It’s a tale of life, and of living but also that we never know what is around the corner and that’s okay. I worry that I haven’t done this book justice, there are too many tales, lessons, people and little scribbles of advice. All I can say is when you’ve read this review please just get hold of a copy and read just the first paragraph, you’ll understand then.

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1 Comment

  1. March 20, 2015 / 2:40 pm

    My copy was a gift from a friend who had survives a brain tumor. We worked together closely on some projects with youth, and at the time were both in times of healing and recovery from illness. Making it even more powerful. I highly recommend giving a copy of this book to someone you care about and including your own words of support and encouragement.

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