Dec 13, 2011

[Books] The Last Lecture

Most of my book-buying funds tend to go into various works of fiction. I can't quite explain why this is so - perhaps I rely on the internet mostly when it comes to reference titles and the usual sort of self-help style articles whenever I need instructions or a little motivational boost of sorts. Or maybe it has more to do with how my mother raised me to be rather self-sufficient and pretty confident, so I've found little value in going into inspirational or motivational titles all that much.

I can't pinpoint precisely when I heard about The Last Lecture, and by this I mean the video and not the actual book that we're discussing in today's review. However when I did hear about it, it certainly sounded like a fascinating story. But for one reason or another I never got around to watching it - I just don't really spend long periods of time at my computer watching YouTube I guess. I'm normally too busy writing.

I only found out that a book had been made based on the lecture after I tried exploring the Kindle Owner's Lending Library using a trial membership for Amazon Prime and noticed that the title was part of the lending collection. So this was my first (and thus far only) book that I've borrowed from Amazon, and it was certainly a most rewarding read.

The Last Lecture is a book by Randy Pausch together with co-author Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal. The book is a collection of Randy's personal stories as was first featured in his "last lecture" - Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.

Dr. Randy Pausch
Image via Wikipedia
For those not familiar with Randy's story, he was a professor at Carnegie Mellon who had agreed to participate in their "last lecture" series of talks where various professors would given their supposed final speech - a summary of what was the most important pieces of learning or wisdom that they had gathered in their lives and wanted to share with their students. In Randy's case, a month before the lecture and yet after he had agreed to give it, he had just received a prognosis that his pancreatic cancer was terminal and that he had only a few months to live.

The book is sort of an expansion of that lecture with the addition of what he went through as he prepared his speech and further exploration of the stories he had shared or even the reasons certain photos and other images were used. One can only imagine the kind of inner turmoil he must have been going through as he tried to prepare this one big talk while also trying to tidy up the loose ends of his life and make sure that his wife and three children would be as decently okay as possible after he had gone. That's a lot for any man to handle.

Poster advertising Pausch's lecture
Image via Wikipedia
And yet Randy did manage all that in a manner that was humorous, energetic and so positive that it's hard to imagine that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness at all. This same level of enthusiasm was clearly evident in the way the book was written. As a reader, I could totally imagine Randy speaking directly to me in a manner that felt warm, inviting and as if we had been friends for a long time. And mind you I still hadn't seen the video of the lecture while reading this - so I was pretty surprised later on when I found that my mental concept of him wasn't too far off the mark.

The book is a collection of very personal, meaningful and important stories filled with good advice for anyone of any age. While it helped me that he was pretty much a geek being a professor of computer science and human-computer interaction, which resulted in a lot of fun virtual reality creations to name a few of his developments - in the end he was just a man talking about his life. The book doesn't rely on big words or elaborate prose to get the message across. Instead it's written in a tone that is so simple and yet so candid, it becomes all the more inspiring given how real it feels.

And it was very real - this book, like the lecture before it, are a living testament to this man's life. This is more than just a collection of stories or a memoir - this is a man's effort to leave a lasting legacy not for the public or even his peers but for his children. And that's what makes this all the more beautiful.

The Last Lecture is certainly one of the best books that I've read and one that I'd recommend to anyone who wants to have a better appreciation for life and what we can accomplish. It gets a full 5 crazy stories about working at Disneyland out of a possible 5.

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