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4.0 out of 5 stars The life and dying of a decent man, April 10, 2008
This review is from: The Last Lecture (Hardcover)
UPDATE: Randy Pausch passed away on Friday, 25 July 2008. R.I.P.

At one point in my life, I spent a couple of years as a hospital chaplain, ministering pretty regularly to folks who were dying. I discovered one thing: generally people died as they had lived. How a person approaches his or her dying reveals a great deal about the values, character traits, dispositions, and attitudes with which they navigated the business of living.

What comes through clearly in Randy Pausch's little book is that he's a guy who's incredibly decent and loving. He writes warmly of his childhood and his parents; he assures us that he's achieved just about every goal he dreamed of as a youth; he appears to be a good and dedicated teacher; he loves his wife and kids; and even when he assures us that he, like everyone else, has personality issues that need working on--he is, he tells us, a "recovering jerk"--his admitted foibles seem pretty tame. Pausch is Joe Everyperson.

I think that's the value of his Last Lecture. Pausch clearly isn't of a philosophical bent of mind. If you pick up his book looking for profound existential discussions about human frailty and mortality (as, I confess, I did), you're not going to find them. I've no doubt that, since the onslaught of his illness, he and his wife Jai have endured despairing dark nights of the soul, paralyzing bouts of panic, and heart-pounding rage against the dying of the light. But except for very rare intimations, Pausch draws a veil over such episodes, and instead offers a mixture of autobiographical reflections and homespun tips on making the most of life (such as managing time, re-thinking priorities, and learning to listen to others). As he tells us, his final lecture to us is about life more than death.

Pausch's ability to hang onto the everyday, to the ordinary aspects of life even as his own draws to an end, is both the book's strength and its weakness. It's a strength in that it spotlights human courage and compassion, and in this regard The Last Lecture is an inspirational success. But one also senses that Pausch's insistence on staying on the surface of things might suggest a deep resistance to the unsettling fact that the surface of things is inexorably slipping away from him. One can talk candidly about one's death without having come to terms with the reality of what one's saying.

I say this without any intent whatsoever of making a value judgment. Each of us copes with death the best we can, and I have no window into Pausch's soul. It's just that after reading (and rereading) his book, I don't really feel as if I've come to know him. Although The Last Lecture is the story of Randy Pausch's life and dying, I sometimes got the uncanny impression that he wasn't really in it. At the end of the book, I felt as if I'd gotten to know his wife, Jai, better than I knew Pausch.

But these reservations should be taken as they're intended: reflections, not necessarily criticisms, of a moving story about a man confronting the mystery all of us must face. Pausch's book, the chronicle of an ordinary man trying to die as decently as he lived, is well worth reading.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 15, 2008 10:50:37 AM PDT
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Posted on Dec 19, 2008 12:01:43 PM PST
Denis Lila says:
Carl, you damn nutjob.
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