Book Review: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

On Christmas day I read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It’s become one of my favourite books. The more I read, the more I liked it. I cried a few times and might have bawled at the end.

Randy was a professor, a computer scientist, and a virtual reality specialist. He had pancreatic cancer with only months to live when he gave his last lecture about how to achieve your childhood dreams. The lecture along with the book were really about what he’d learnt about how to live, and both were really for his kids.

It was an easy and enjoyable read with an honest, self-aware, clear-thinking narrator who had an unwavering positivity and kindness. I loved the book structure with short chapters that shared a story with a lesson that Randy wanted to pass on. Each lesson was intelligent and insightful.

I was taken by the $100,000 salt and pepper shaker lesson where the staff at Disney World replaced a $10 salt and pepper shaker that he’d broken, and in return his family spent probably over $100,000 at Disney World over the next years because of Disney World’s ‘heart.’

I loved the lesson about the importance of brick walls because ‘they give us a chance to show us how badly we want something’ and keep out the ones who don’t want it badly enough. And I loved the lesson about ‘experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.’

I really loved how Randy had strong beliefs that often went against the grain and put them into practice often in unconventional ways. He smashed a VCR to teach his students to keep technology simple or else people might get frustrated with it and smash it. He believed in teamwork so he always got his students to work in groups and give honest feedback about how each person worked in the group. He handed out notes on how to apologise and got the students to sign contracts about group work.

I especially loved this quirky one: the First Penguin Award for glorious failure, given to these who dream wildly, try boldly, and will one day go places.

Other things I was taken by were Randy’s work ethic, his passion for the world of virtual reality, and appreciation of people. I noted how he constantly talked about the people in his life: family, colleagues, students, mentors. He received from them, gave to them, and learnt from them.

I want to remember and apply these lessons. I want to live what I believe and be a bit quirky.

One final lesson: the head fake, where you think you’re being taught one thing but actually taught something else. I love how I have a new phrase for this. All of life is a head fake, I reckon. We’re learning all the time even when we don’t know it.

I was so moved and inspired by this book and this life. I want to keep it alive.

Have you read The Last Lecture?

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