Skip to Content

Book Review: "The Last Lecture", by Randy Pausch

Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, says goodbye to his family in this book, while giving the rest of us some parting thoughts on how to live a fulfilling life. The book reminded me a lot of “Be Happy”, as both are anthologies of short stories. Pausch’s comes across as more authentic and relatable, since for him it is a personal journey. There were a number of takeaways from the book I found valuable:

  • Live the life you want. Pausch mentions how he and his spouse Jai may not have taken as many vacations when they did if he had more time. This point reminded me of the “financial independence, retire early”, or FIRE, and their constant admonitions to first live the life you want before trying to develop the capital and cash flow to support it, since you only live each day once, and you don’t want to find out years later that you never got to live your life. I can’t speak for others, but one distinct problem that I currently have is that I don’t know what life I want for myself, and that prevents me from living the life I want (as I want everything and nothing at the same time).

  • Create sharp memories. Pausch had three young children at the time of his death, and he wanted to impart some memories into their minds, where memories may be fuzzy. As his oldest son liked marine life, he took him to swim with dolphins. Swimming with dolphins, especially as a young child, is an unforgettable experience, and hopefully somewhere in that memory will be his dad. I think this is pretty great advice for everybody, to think of what types of memories we wish to create.

  • Think of the positives. As a STEM professor, Pausch mentioned being highly analytical about his terminal diagnosis, even counting the number of cancer tumors on his liver. To me it was either that or it was perhaps an out-of-body experience to know you are about to die. Even so, Pausch lived with great dignity, with others (including a police officer who stopped him for speeding) to comment on how vitally he lived his last days.

    Many of us hear about how when somebody we love dies, a part of us goes with him. One well-wisher mentioned how the Indian spiritual leader Krishnamurti spun this statement around, saying part of us goes to accompany them, so that they will not be alone. This reassuring, optimistic nature is constantly present in the book; Pausch provides this father figure very well in this book for his kids.