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The Last Lecture Hardcover – Illustrated, April 8, 2008
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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?
When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.
In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.
Questions for Randy Pausch
We were shy about barging in on Randy Pausch's valuable time to ask him a few questions about his expansion of his famous Last Lecture into the book by the same name, but he was gracious enough to take a moment to answer. (See Randy to the right with his kids, Dylan, Logan, and Chloe.) As anyone who has watched the lecture or read the book will understand, the really crucial question is the last one, and we weren't surprised to learn that the "secret" to winning giant stuffed animals on the midway, like most anything else, is sheer persistence.
Amazon.com: I apologize for asking a question you must get far more often than you'd like, but how are you feeling?
Pausch: The tumors are not yet large enough to affect my health, so all the problems are related to the chemotherapy. I have neuropathy (numbness in fingers and toes), and varying degrees of GI discomfort, mild nausea, and fatigue. Occasionally I have an unusually bad reaction to a chemo infusion (last week, I spiked a 103 fever), but all of this is a small price to pay for walkin' around.
Amazon.com: Your lecture at Carnegie Mellon has reached millions of people, but even with the short time you apparently have, you wanted to write a book. What did you want to say in a book that you weren't able to say in the lecture?
Pausch: Well, the lecture was written quickly--in under a week. And it was time-limited. I had a great six-hour lecture I could give, but I suspect it would have been less popular at that length ;-).
A book allows me to cover many, many more stories from my life and the attendant lessons I hope my kids can take from them. Also, much of my lecture at Carnegie Mellon focused on the professional side of my life--my students, colleagues and career. The book is a far more personal look at my childhood dreams and all the lessons I've learned. Putting words on paper, I've found, was a better way for me to share all the yearnings I have regarding my wife, children and other loved ones. I knew I couldn't have gone into those subjects on stage without getting emotional.
Amazon.com: You talk about the importance--and the possibility!--of following your childhood dreams, and of keeping that childlike sense of wonder. But are there things you didn't learn until you were a grownup that helped you do that?
Pausch: That's a great question. I think the most important thing I learned as I grew older was that you can't get anywhere without help. That means people have to want to help you, and that begs the question: What kind of person do other people seem to want to help? That strikes me as a pretty good operational answer to the existential question: "What kind of person should you try to be?"
Amazon.com: One of the things that struck me most about your talk was how many other people you talked about. You made me want to meet them and work with them--and believe me, I wouldn't make much of a computer scientist. Do you think the people you've brought together will be your legacy as well?
Pausch: Like any teacher, my students are my biggest professional legacy. I'd like to think that the people I've crossed paths with have learned something from me, and I know I learned a great deal from them, for which I am very grateful. Certainly, I've dedicated a lot of my teaching to helping young folks realize how they need to be able to work with other people--especially other people who are very different from themselves.
Amazon.com: And last, the most important question: What's the secret for knocking down those milk bottles on the midway?
Pausch: Two-part answer:
1) long arms
2) discretionary income / persistence
Actually, I was never good at the milk bottles. I'm more of a ring toss and softball-in-milk-can guy, myself. More seriously, though, most people try these games once, don't win immediately, and then give up. I've won *lots* of midway stuffed animals, but I don't ever recall winning one on the very first try. Nor did I expect to. That's why I think midway games are a great metaphor for life.
About the Author
Jeff Zaslow wrote the Wall Street Journal column that fueled the initial interest in Randy Pausch's lecture. He is also the co-author of Captain Chesley Sullenberger's The Highest Duty and the author of The Girls from Ames, both bestsellers.
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I was told by a Doctor in September 2015 not to do anything as life after this procedure is compromised and a "quality of life" decision.
Unless you are told you will die, having to face your death, it is hard to appreciate how hard it is to define yourself, your loves, and how to tell all the people who have impacted your life how important they are.
Randy Pausch's effort is beyond commendable.
His life lessons, antidotes, as the critics say are from a "I, me" perspective but where were they suppose to come from? The evidence of his love of life, his family, his work are a gift to all of us who have to face difficult decisions and look death in the eye, but they are more than that, they are a reminder to those who go through life numb to the basic rules and the amazing things around you that put Quality in life.
I read this as I am recovering. I wish I had read it eight months ago and I would have made my decision to have the operation and the hope that it offers sooner.
It quickly summarizes the fear, anxiety, anger but most importantly imparts his version of what's important in a easy eloquent way. No it's not the final word on dying, but a noble attempt by an even nobler person.
* The life experiences he's had before getting sick are incredible
* The impact he's had on a huge number of people, primarily as a professor, is awesome
* The way he lived his life, before and after his illness, is inspiring. The lessons he shares will definitely be shared with my kids.
* The dude is wickedly funny and very humble
Although I shed many tears while reading this book, it's clear that the author lived an incredibly full and rewarding life.
Top international reviews
The background is significant. The author, Professor Randy Pausch, then in his mid 40s, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told that he had only a few months to live. He had been married for only eight years and had three young children.
Randy and his wife Jai faced this tragedy with remarkable fortitude. They decided to make the best of his remaining time, moving to a different city, putting their affairs in order, and so on. However, the professor wanted to leave a unique legacy for his students and – more importantly – his children: a lecture on achieving one’s childhood dreams. Most of this book is about how this “last lecture” took shape in the author’s mind and how it was eventually presented to a packed audience.
Despite the devastating circumstances, the author does not lose his sense of humour. For instance, in one of the early chapters, this is what he says about his lecturing skills – being known as the best speaker in the computer science department of his university was like being known as the “tallest of the seven dwarfs”!
As the book progresses, he addresses a variety of topics. Some of his most memorable one-liners are as follows:
• Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
• He changed my life. I could never adequately pay him back, so I just have to pay it forward.
• It can be a very disruptive thing for parents to have specific dreams for their children.
• Time is all you have. And you may find out one day that you have less than you think.
Many of the chapters are illustrated with photos from the author’s own collection, which impart a warm personal touch to his narration.
Interestingly, this book does not contain the last lecture itself, though we are told that it consists of about 300 slides containing mostly pictures and very little text. However, the video of this lecture is available on Internet, and it is extremely inspiring.
By the time you finish this book, you will start thinking of Randy as a good friend and guide. Though the author left this world a few months after the publication of this book, I am sure that his circle of friends and admirers will never stop growing.
Be warned, this book is a real tear-jerker. I know the story from the Lecture, and yet it had me sobbing through my commute!
Nominally about achieving your childhood dreams. More specifically about a life well loved.
Moving and inspiring.
This is a horribly difficult subject and easy to ignore but this book makes it possible to engage with the topic and while the ending is inevitably sad I did find the courage and stoicism shown by the author uplifting.