The Last Lecture Summary

In The Last Lecture, professor Randy Pausch expands on a speech that he delivered at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2007. Pausch, who had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, addressed his book primarily to young adults and children hoping to fulfill their dreams.

  • Pausch's lecture was titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" and was directed at young adults and children dreaming of their future lives. He stresses the importance of having good parents and giving yourself time to grow emotionally and intellectually.

  • Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow co-wrote the book, expanding upon ideas and aphorisms that Pausch first explored in his speech. Pausch includes many personal anecdotes, including some about his time working as an Imagineer at Walt Disney World.

  • Pausch died in 2008, not long after The Last Lecture was published to wide acclaim.

Introduction

The Last Lecture cover image

The Last Lecture, a book cowritten by computer science professor Randy Pausch and Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, was published in 2008 by Hyperion. It is based on the highly acclaimed and inspirational lecture presented by Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University on September 18, 2007.

The title of the book is derived from the concept of a retiring professor’s “last lecture,” which includes the professor’s insights into life and what really matters. Pausch was forced to deliver an untimely and very literal last lecture after facing a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. His lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," was delivered in front of an audience filled with Pausch’s family, friends, students, and colleagues; it quickly received praise from the public after a copy was posted online, and Pausch even gave an abridged version of his lecture on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Written with humor and wisdom, this book serves as a reflection of the main points of Pausch’s lecture. In it, Pausch discusses the importance of childhood dreams and how to go about achieving them as one grows older. The major points of his book include taking the time to dream, the importance of good parents in a child’s life, and how to put people before materials. Intertwined in the major themes of his lecture are Pausch’s own personal anecdotes, complete with how he was able to turn his boyhood dreams into reality, including becoming an Imagineer for Walt Disney World, and creating the Alice software project.

In The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch says, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Through his stories and experience, Pausch imparts readers with a “how-to” guide when striving to reach goals and dreams, but the book also serves as one man’s legacy to his three young children. Pausch lived to see The Last Lecture become a New York Times best seller in April of 2008. He lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008, at the age of forty-seven, but not before inspiring millions of readers to never stop believing in their dreams.

Synopsis

Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, a slim book full of aphorisms and stories, was published in 2008 by Hyperion. In the work, Pausch describes the fulfillment of dreams he has had since childhood and the principles and lessons he has learned along the way into adulthood. The book was written primarily for Pausch’s three children—Dylan, Logan, and Chloe.

Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. At 47, he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. His tale in The Last Lecture is based on an academic principle in which professors are asked to imagine that they are near death and required to summarize their knowledge and wisdom and pass it along to their students in one final lecture. Pausch took his life’s circumstances and formulated his tale for his children and students.

The book is a result of an actual lecture that took place in 2007 to a crowded lecture hall. Pausch addressed the audience and delivered a humorous, brave, and thought-provoking speech about achieving childhood dreams. Pausch’s lecture was referenced in an article by Jeff Zaslow of The New York Times. He said:

I live in Detroit, about 300 miles away, and I ended up driving to save the cost of a flight. It was like watching Babe Ruth hit his last home run, or Michael Jordan hitting his jump shot at the end of the NBA finals. It was electric in that room. I knew it affected everyone that was there. But I could not have foreseen what followed, even in my wildest dreams.

Zaslow wrote about the lecture in his next column and provided highlights from the video. The video went viral and received thousands of hits on YouTube. ABC’s Good Morning America hosted Pausch on the show, and he also was invited to speak on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The appeal of Pausch’s video and book is partly due to his upfront, honest, humorous, and humble approach to the end of his life. His story is a real and welcome turn from the hype and celebrity of standard reality shows and entertainment magazines. 

Randy Pausch died on July 25, 2008. His book and video became a best-selling sensation, inspiring people all over the world.