I'm not sure quite where to start with this book review.
The Last Lecture is a memoir by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who, with only months to live, conducted a final lecture about his life and its lessons. Pancreatic cancer had taken over his body and the only thing he could do is to stay as comfortable as possible while waiting to die. Millions have seen his
lecture, entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" on Youtube and he appeared on TV shows such as Oprah and ABC News with Charles Gibson. He died on July 25, 2008 at age 47, leaving behind a wife, Jai, and three children
Dylan, Logan, and Chloe.
From a purely literary perspective, the book was a good read. There were some interesting perspectives that Randy shared; some of my favorites are:
"Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to see how badly we really want something"
The first Penguin Award - given to the team that took the greatest gamble in trying new ideas and failed to achieve their goals.
Send out thin mints - when he asked colleagues to review research papers he would send a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints with it and say "thank you for reviewing the paper, these thin mints are your reward; but no fair eating them until the review is finished".
The $100,000 salt and pepper shaker
"Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later"
The writing is light and conversational, just as if Randy was there talking to the reader about his life. It took me about three hours to read so wasn't too terribly time-taxing.
Where I became very conflicted was in understanding the backdrop of the memoir. Here is a man with a loving wife and three young children who knows he won't live to see them grow up. Only his eldest son will
remember him; the younger siblings will have no memory of their father. Each day on earth with them is precious. Making memories that his wife will remember with them are all-important. As the family provider, he has to think about ensuring his family is provided for and that they will not struggle financially. His family
decided to move to Virginia from Pennsylvania so his wife could be closer to her family after his death.
Where my struggle began was with his decision to hold the lecture at Carnegie Mellon knowing he only had months to live. They had already moved to Virginia so doing the lecture would have meant a trip back to Pennsylvania, taking time away from the family. Also, both he and Jai knew that preparation for the lecture would have meant hours and hours of his time, with every hour of time he spent preparing for the lecture being one less hour of time he was spending with his family. To add insult to injury, the lecture date was Jai's birthday; the last birthday that he would be spending with his wife. Jai was not supportive of him holding the
lecture in any way, but he did it anyway. On the one hand, the lecture (and resultant book) has probably done more to secure his family's financial future as much or more than anything else he had done. As of
this writing, The Last Lecture is rated #52 on Amazon's Best Seller List and is still selling strong. On the other hand, he put his work before his family at the most crucial of times; when the family was about to lose him forever. I can see his perspective; to leave a legacy and to secure his family's financial future. I can also see Jai's perspective; don't do anything which means time away from the family.
I found myself reading the book not so much that I would get any helpful nuggets out of it or be entertained by it, but because I wanted to honor a man who, with only months to live, wanted to ensure his story got out about him, his love for his family, and the lessons he has learned in his shortened life. I recommend you readThe Last Lecture and draw your own conclusions.