I was honestly worried that this would be exactly the sort of book that I can't stand. You know the story, guy knows he's dying and writes the perfect ending to his life. I have seen the video of The Last Lecture on the internet, but I just wasn't sure how it would translate into the written word.
Fortunately, Pausch doesn't try to justify The Last Lecture on the basis of his being a Wise Dying Man. The beginning and the end of The Last Lecture are the real tear-jerking parts: we meet Pausch, we meet his family, and we learn about his upcoming death. At the end we hear, for just a moment, about the tears that he and his wife have shed before (and after) bed - after the bedroom door has closed and the kids are asleep. That's one of the most heartbreaking parts of it all: Pausch's children don't yet know about his illness; the parents are waiting until he becomes symptomatic to tell them. In the meantime he's preparing: delivering a last lecture to impart some life lessons, getting his life insurance in order, buying a sports car, going on fun trips with his wife - having a good time, and trying not to think too much about his own death.
When I first started reading, I was angry with Pausch because he was devoting so much time to performing his last lecture - time he was taking away from his wife and children. He left his wife - on her 40th birthday no less - to actually give the speech in Philidelphia. What if that was the last birthday she was ever going to have him? But later I came to realize that what he left his family is far more important than missing the possible last birthday of his wife.
Between the watery-eye parts is a set of straightforward and eminently practical life lessons for the reader:
"... write thank-you notes ...
... try harder than the other guy ...
... be honest with everyone ..."
Each moral is backed by a story from Pausch's own life, lessons he is teaching in the form of:
"someone out there was good enough to do me this favor, so now I'm passing it on to you."
This small books contains 61 chapters, each relating to life lessons Randy Pausch wants to give his three children. One pleasant aspect of the book is that it isn't at all about how his illness has made the author re-evaluate his priorities. Pausch didn't change his values one bit. He was an optimistic, energetic, go-getter all his life. He gave up his career to be with his family because his family comes first not because his work isn't important to him. His activities define him and his work formed a large part of his activities, but his work can be carried on by others while being a father and husband can only be done by him. The cancer changed his life around but it didn't change what he thought was important.
My favorite line in the book is:
"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want".
There are many other bite sized bits of wisdom, but this one is sticking with me for personal reasons. Haven't we all longed for something that we didn't get? It's not that what Pausch says is new but because he's in a hurry to live, the sense of urgency he creates gets the lessons through all the more effectively.
This little book looks at a big dreamer, a man intelligent enough to see bigger than most people ever see, and to allow readers to gain just a little understanding of the rules by which he lived his journey - his life. Indulge your "inner child" and buy this lovely book. Or, buy a copy for a teen you know. It's worth the money.