Randy Pausch, with Jeffrey Zaslow, The Last Lecture (New York: Hyperion, 2008), 206pp.
In September 2006 Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. He was forty-six, married for only seven years, and had three kids ages four, two, and three months. About that same time he had accepted an invitation from Carnegie Mellon to present a lecture in a long-running series that used to be called "The Last Lecture" but had been renamed "Journeys." Pausch pursued aggressive treatment that included radical (Whipple) surgery and experimental chemotherapy, but in August 2007 scans showed that the cancer had spread to his liver (ten tumors) and spleen. Doctors gave him three to six more months of good health—which was nine months ago, as I write. On September 18, 2007, he stepped to the podium and gave his "last lecture" to a packed audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon. Called "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," Pausch's one hour talk has received over six million views online (see www.thelastlecture.com).
This book is a follow-on to Pausch's lecture, "a way for me to continue what I began on stage." In his introduction he explains that he dictated the chapters on long bike rides using his cell phone head-set, and then Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, "turned my stories into a book." The pages are small, the sixty-one chapters in two hundred pages are short, and the wisdom represents what Pausch cherished as important life lessons. Never give up. Live for today. There's power in humility. Don't sweat the small stuff. Complaining never helps. Show gratitude. I didn't find most of what he wrote very deep or profound, but perhaps therein lies the most important life lesson — there are no big secrets to living a full life. Most of what is truly important is quite obvious. Pausch's book also provokes a significant application for every reader — just what would I write if given the same assignment with the same constraints? You can follow his progress at his home page: http://download.srv.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/.