Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition, 2008
Price: $21.95
ISBN-10: 1401323251
ISBN-13: 978-1401323257

The passing of a good man is never an easy thing to witness. And yet, I think modern American society seems to resist death, that is, death as a natural part of life. We are a youth-obsessed culture, ageism is rampant, and given a choice between youth and wisdom, far too many choose the former. At great loss to all of us.

And so it is a good thing, this gathering around a man dying, and lauding his accomplishments, receiving the simple wisdoms he imparts as he considers his own passage. His situation is hardly unique - people with yet unlived (fully) lives, with growing families, with still unrealized dreams, fall ill and die around us all the time, all the time. Allow, then, that Randy Pausch, dying in midlife with pancreatic cancer, speaks for many of these who surround us everyday and everywhere. A professor in computer science, but perhaps more in the basic lessons of living, he offers this "last lecture" that is usually given at retirement of a career, not retirement from life.

The book is that lecture with a few extra stories to tell us about his family, his love story with his wife, Jai, his children, his various dreams, most realized, his philosophy and sense of life. You won't find any earth-shattering, peeling-back-of-the-universe revelations here. You have heard them all before: dream and persist in pursuing your dream, live in the moment, listen to the wisdom of your parents, risk and risk big when it is for the right reasons and the right goal, show gratitude, love with all your heart, live with authenticity and utmost honesty, apologize for your mistakes and make it right. It is all here. But it occurred to me as I read more of this communal wisdom that even if we all know it ... so many of us sorely need reminding of it. If we were living by these simple, basic wisdoms, after all, surely more of us would be living far more fulfilled and happy lives than we do.

Be reminded, then. As Randy Pausch observes, those cliches and platitudes we hear so often exist because, chances are, they hold within them more than a seed of truth. And so, even though I already knew it, I made a mental note to repeat his good advice, given to his very young daughter, Chloe, to my own daughter: when it comes to men, do not listen to a single word they say. Do watch with utmost care everything they do. Indeed, actions speak far, far louder, and more truthfully, than words; actions will show the true character of a man.

When asked for life advice in three words, Pausch says: "Tell The Truth." And if he were given three more? "All The Time." Why? He says, "Because it is so efficient."

Yes, that simple. Pausch admits he is a man with two favorite crayons, black and white, and while he admires and enjoys the rainbow of colors, most times, life really can be reduced to black and white. Gray can be all about rationalization and wiggling out of accountability. And you know? I think he's right.

In a society where taking accountability is so rarely done, it could be Pausch's bit on making apologies could well be worth the entire book in weight of its wisdom-gold. No if's, and's or but's. No "sorry you feel that way." None of that which only pours salt into open wounds. Asking forgiveness is a process of three steps, and all three are necessary - perhaps most especially the final one of ... "this is how I will make it right." Hmm ... wouldn't the world be a much better place ...

For the other steps, all the other dwelled-upon (and worthy) cliches built on time worn wisdom and truth, go ahead, consider the last lecture. It is later than you think.


Lorena said...

Interesting review! Thank you for sharing!

Sun Singer said...

As I read the book and your very apt review, I couldn't help but wonder why a man about to die suddenly seems smarter to us than he was the rest of his life. With our resistance of death (and the focus on youth that you observe as well), we salute those who know they are dying almost as though not listening might drag us into the grave after them.