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The Last Lecture Hardcover – Deluxe Edition, April 8, 2008
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"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."
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
Randy Pausch was a Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon, where he was the co-founder of Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). He was a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. He had sabbaticals at Walt Disney Imagineering and Electronic Arts (EA), and consulted with Google on user interface design. Dr. Pausch received his bachelors in Computer Science from Brown University and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University. He was the director of the Alice (www.alice.org) software project, and had traveled in zero-gravity. He lived with his wife, Jai, and their three young children in Virginia.
Jeffrey Zaslow was an award-winning columnist with the Wall Street Journal and author of several bestsellers including The Girls from Ames, The Magic Room, and Sully (with Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger).
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
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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.
Denise A. Braley, Ed.D.
* 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.
Reviewer: Dr W. P. Palmer.
This is the story of a sincere man with scientific training writing autobiographically to draw out the lessons from his own life and provide these lessons to a general audience for their use, but more particularly to his own family as something by which to remember him. It is easily readable and plausible, but the outcomes of what appear to be chance events in Randy Pausch’s life are presented in terms of being inviolable scientific laws. For example, consider the story in Chapter 50 entitled ‘The $100,000 salt and pepper shaker’. It is a nice little story of kindness by Disney World staff to Randy and his sister when they were young, which Randy claims he and his family were able to repay ten thousand-fold when he was an adult. He draws out the moral from this story is that ‘on every level, institutions can and should have a heart’. Probably no one will disagree with this statement, but Pausch leaves businesses with no practical advice as to precisely how this may be done.
Randy Pausch’s account of his life shows him to have been both talented and fortunate up to his untimely demise, though he eventually accepted this with more grace and dignity than many of us could manage. Different individuals will accept some of his moralizing and reject the rest. The idea of supporting ‘a last lecture’ by Carnegie Mellon University seems to be a good one and would be worthy of emulation by other universities. From the length of the book, it contained material for at least six last lectures. Pausch claims to have been a ‘science nerd’ and to have been scientific in the organization of his life. This may not be possible or even desirable, but from his description, Pausch’s life was not as scientific as he considered it to be. The book is very definitely worth reading!