Brandon's Notepad

July 17, 2014

The Last Lecture

Filed under: Book Reviews — Brandon @ 12:23 pm
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The Last Lecture
This is a short review of The Last Lecture, written by Dr. Randy Pausch, narrated by Erik Singer.

This is one of those books that creates a real buzz in the American popular culture. Of course, to that end, it doesn’t hurt one bit to be invited to speak on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I had seen the book on the shelf when it came out, and because (despite age-old advice) I almost always judge a book by its cover, I was under the impression that it was going to be a very depressing book. I’ll pass. I guess it’s a good thing that I also often read books just ‘because everyone else is doing it’. Most of the time, I am pleasantly surprised by what I find. This was one of those times. This is not a depressing book at all. It is an inspiring book, and well worth the read.

Dr. Randy Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. A year later, the doctors gave him only months to live. He had been invited to give a lecture at his university about his life journey, something akin to the tradition amongst academics to giving a ‘last lecture’ in which they impart whatever wisdom they feel would be most valuable to their students and colleagues. For Pausch, this was an opportunity to leave his legacy for real, not just in the realm of the classroom on one afternoon, but far more importantly for his children. Pausch died in July 2008, survived by his wife and by three small children, the youngest of whom will only know him from this work, his last magnum opus.

Pausch didn’t write an autobiography in the traditional sense. He didn’t write about his achievements and his regrets in life, harping on what he had done in the past and lamenting those things that he will never have a chance to do in the future. He didn’t even address his thoughts on death, though he didn’t ignore the elephant in the room by any means. The title of his lecture was “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. He wrote about how to live life. He wrote about persistence, attitude, and the true meaning of experience. His advice is as practical as it is upbeat. In a nutshell, he continued to do his job — teaching others — drawing examples from his own life to support a set of fundamental principles.

I hesitate to write anything specific about his message and his stories, because I found a lot of value in listening to them in his words, and I know that I would not do them justice. It’s just one of those books you have to read for yourself.

I will add one small caveat for any Christians reading this review. Whenever I read things like this, I am always interested in finding out more about the author’s faith tradition. The only clues Pausch gave throughout most of the text is that he had a deep understanding of how Moses must have felt knowing that he would die before the Hebrews would enter the Promised Land, and that he did discuss end-of-life issues with his pastor. Obviously, these clues point to his identity as a Christian. He later discloses that he views faith as a private matter and that he did not discuss faith in the lecture or the book on purpose, because he felt that the advice he had to offer had more universal appeal. So, he came off as one of the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ types. It is also apparent from the text, as well as his presentation on Oprah, that he believed in karma; thus, while I totally appreciate his joy and enthusiasm for life and optimism in the ability that people can indeed achieve their childhood dreams, I cannot endorse the Universalist/New Age underpinnings of his ethos.


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