Updated 18 April 2017

The last lecture

When Randy Pausch was invited to give a ‘last lecture’, it had a particular poignancy: he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

by Randy Pausch

If there were one book / five pieces of music / three kinds of food you could take to a desert island, what would they be?

In the grand tradition of desert-island lists, comes the academics’ version: the last lecture. If there was one more talk you could deliver, is the brief, what would you want to say? What would you want as your legacy?

Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon in the US, made the ‘last lecture’ concept famous beyond campuses, for deeply poignant reasons: he’d recently been diagnosed with the terminal cancer that killed him, around 10 months after his lecture.

His subject was chosen partly through his longing to leave a legacy for his children, then aged six, three and eighteen months: his talk was entitled ‘Really achieving your childhood dreams’.

It’s over an hour long on YouTube, and very moving (he’s an excellent lecturer); and out of the lecture came this book. It’s not the most profound read, and I know I’m not alone in thinking I might not have liked him very much: over his fundamental and self-confessed arrogance, Pausch layers a sort of Forrest Gumpy naivete that comes across as faux (since he’s clearly as sophisticated as he’s intelligent). That’s when he’s giving his message.

However, when he’s talking about living with the pancreatic cancer that killed him, and about his love for his family, and his fears and hopes and dreams, he soars. If you’re close to someone who has cancer – even a form not as scary as this – it’s a must-read.

(Review by Heather Parker)


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