Book Review: The Last Lecture

This year I rather bravely attempted a bookish challenge, consisting of reading many different genres.

For the Philosophy category I read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

For those of you who want to point out that this book isn’t actually philosophy, besides being philosophical… I get that now. But it was filed under philosophy and I didn’t know any better. Sigh.

A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

Randy Pausch, a computer science professor, was given a death sentence in the form of pancreatic cancer at the age of 47, when he had three very young children. He was asked to deliver a “last lecture” – in this case, truly a last lecture – at Carnegie Melon university. His lecture was viewed by millions on YouTube, and thus came about the book, an extension of the lecture itself.

Attempting to leave something behind for his wife and young children, this work is autobiographical in nature, and addresses the desire to “achieve your childhood dreams”. Pausch talks about the childhood dreams he achieved, and how he helped others achieve their childhood dreams. For example, Pausch managed to become a Disney Imagineer against all odds, and helped various computer sciences and humanities students explore their dreams through what was then groundbreaking virtual reality programming.

The topic of childhood dreams is a nice one, and I liked how Pausch encourages enabling the dreams of others. I think that’s something we forget a lot. It’s a selfish world.

But besides that, to come clean early on, The Last Lecture really didn’t enthrall me. It wasn’t gripping. And it was a little recycled… it strays from the topic of childhood dreams and really reiterates things that are sort of common sense – don’t give up, work hard, have a good attitude. Granted, perhaps not all parents or teachers teach these things anymore.

Pausch has a remarkable and positive attitude, but the book is not breathtaking or revolutionary. I am sure that it means a lot to the family and friends he left behind, and for that it can be appreciated.

If you have time (an hour and fifteen minutes worth) you can check out the actual lecture here. Mr Pausch is a remarkable public speaker and has a good sense of humour.

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