“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow


I read ‘The Last lecture’ on a flight from Dubai to New York. The book was published in 2008, the year Randy Pausch died of pancreatic cancer. The fatal diagnosis had come in 2006 and the following year Pausch delivered “The Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon on the topic “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Ironically, the speech was part of a series Carnegie Mellon called “The Last Lecture,” where speakers were asked to think about what mattered to them most and give a hypothetical last lecture. Pausch’s speech soon became a sensation on Youtube and the book (supposedly dictated over cellphone to WSJ journalist Jeffrey Zaslow) later turned out to be a New York Times bestseller.

Pausch, a computer scientist and university professor, recognized as a pioneer of virtual reality research, married with three little infants, finds out he has very little time left. This book is his last and final legacy. It is both touching and thought-provoking, leaving the reader sad and elated at the same time. Though it is about death and man’s helplessness in the face of the inevitable, it maintains a humorous vein throughout. Here are a few samples:

  • I quote my father to people almost every day. Part of that is because if you dispense your own wisdom, others often dismiss it; if you offer wisdom from a third party, it seems less arrogant and more acceptable
  • After I got my PhD, my mother took great relish in introducing me by saying: “This is my son. He’s a doctor but not the kind who helps people.
  • Throughout my academic career, I’d given some pretty good talks. But being considered the best speaker in a computer science department is like being known as the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs
  • While I went through treatment, those running the lecture series kept sending me emails. “What will you be talking about?” they asked. “Please provide an abstract.” There’s a formality in academia that can’t be ignored, even if a man is busy with other things, like trying not to die.

The book encompasses many quotable quotes, sound business advice and much wisdom. A few examples:

  • There is more than one way to measure profits and losses.
  • On every level, institutions can and should have a heart.
  • A good apology is like an antibiotic, a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound.

Overall Assessment: Definitely worth reading.

The Last Lecture
AUTHOR: Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

Contributor: Pushpa Kurup lives in Trivandrum, India and works in the IT sector.

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