Friday, 23 April 2010

Book Review: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch (2008)

Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. His "last lecture", on which he summarized his values and outlook on life, became an Internet sensation.

The book expands on the contents of the lecture and admirably captures the essence of Pausch as a fun-loving, intelligent, hard-working professor, and a dedicated husband and loving father, making arrangements for his family's life to continue and his young children to remember him after his death.

The Last Lecture is effectively an autobiography written as a series of entertaining short stories, ranging from Pausch as a child through to his education and into adulthood, marriage, parenting, and a career as a professor. The key people in his life, including his parents, football coach, mentor, and wife, get special and genuinely warm treatment.

The stories are garnished with humour and a positive, upbeat spirit. And as an overarching theme, Pausch stresses the importance of having dreams and chasing after them.

Pausch has a deep appreciation for head-fakes as an educational tool: the sports move where the player's head moves in one direction but the body heads in another is a useful metaphor for progressive teaching, whereby students think they are engaged on one activity (say a technical project) while the real skill being taught is hidden (teamwork).

In the last few pages, Pausch describes a couple of head-fakes that his book delivers, but either ironically or intentionally, he omits the best head-fake of all: The Last Lecture, as a bonus, is the rarest of treasures: a book about leadership that does not pretend to be about leadership.

The life lessons described by Pausch contain valuable professional leadership nuggets. These include his attitude to obstacles (or "brick walls" as he calls them), his differentiation between symptoms and disease, the need for self-awareness, and dealing with elephants in the room, among others.

Yes, there is a bit of an obsession with Disney in Pausch's life, and an apparent total lack of interest in drawing examples and experiences from the greater international world outside his immediate circle of work and family. But as a summary of a life well-lived, The Last Lecture achieves the difficult task of keeping alive the joyful spirit of a positive man.

Co-Written with Jeffrey Zaslow. Hardcover published by Hyperion. 206 pages.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...