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April 21, 2008

Book Review The LAST LECTURE by Randy Pausch

By Rob Kall

The first and only book that made me cry through half the chapters. Randy Pausch is dying of cancer. As is traditional at many universities, he gave a "last lecture" which is usually given by elder, retiring professors. But Pausch's last lecture because an internet youtube phenomenon. And now, after a book he did is out, it is a huge, runaway bestseller, so hot, they literally can't keep the books in stock in bookstores.


Originally Published on OpEdNews

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The Last Lecture

If you haven't seen the Youtube video, read the Parade Magazine or the Original Wall Street Journal articles that got this phenomenon off the ground, you're missing something you really want to be aware of.

Randy Pausch is dying of cancer. He had surgery and chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer and it failed. He's been told he has three to six months to live, with the ten tumors in his liver that came back after his original treatment.

As is traditional at many universities, he gave a "last lecture" which is usually given by elder, retiring professors. But Pausch's last lecture because an internet youtube phenomenon. And now, after the book he did with Wall Street Journal writer Jeff Zaslow is out, titled, The Last Lecture , it is a huge, runaway bestseller, so hot, that Disney's Hyperion Publishing doesn't have enough to keep the books in stock in bookstores.

Now, I was lucky, after reading about Pausch's last lecture in the Wall Street Journal, I wrote to thank the article writer, and told him I'd posted it on my website.opednews dot com. A short time later, the writer offered to send me a copy to review. When my copy came in, my office manager, Rose, expressed interest in it, so I told her to go ahead and borrow it for a few days. I get a lot of review books, many unsolicited, and I only read a small percentage of them. But I knew I wanted to read this one. When I told Rose I wanted it back, so I could read it on an international flight, I asked her how she liked it. She told me she'd only read the first three chapters-- that she'd cried during reading each one. I was going on a trip with my 27 year old daughter and my better half, so, on the one hour drive to the airport, I started reading the book out loud, to them.

Rose was not alone. I found myself choking up, engaging in overlong pauses and needing to clear the tears from MY eyes as Pausch told his story, and the life lessons he'd learned. I kept asking if my partner or my daughter wanted me keep reading and they had me read until we parked the car.

I finished the book quickly and I have to say, it's unique. I've never read a book where over half the chapters (about 60 chapters) touch my heart AND make me cry.

This book is ALL about positive psychology. It's not university research, but there's an awful lot of university wisdom. It should be required reading for positive psychologists. This is how wisdom is woven together into a meaningful life.

Pausch explores, throughout the book the theme of acheiving your own childhood dreams, adult dreams, and enabling the dreams of others. He mentions early, how when he was a kid, when it came to the World book encyclopedia, "I didn't read every word, but I gave it a shot." One of his childhood dreams was to be a contributor, as an expert to the worldbook-- and eventually, it did happen. That made me think. I'm a quotationaholic, sort of like a bibliomaniac (which I also am) but for quotations. I usually leave a few quotation books in the bathroom. The quotes make perfect reading length material. I was delighted one day to have my son come up to me, holding the Book of Positive Quotations, informing me that one of my quotations was in it. That was one of those moments.

Pausch, an engineer, takes lessons from his life that he wants to pass on to his very young three children and his students. He's a man who has accomplished some impressive things in his life, so that lends credibility to what would otherwise be solid, wise advise.

I love his attitude towards "brick walls." When you reach a brick wall that seems unsurmountable and unpassable, he advises, "The brick walls are there for a reason. They're not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a c hance to show how badly we want something." Then he tells several stories illustrating how brick walls challenged him and how he overcame the challenges.

Coming from spending over 30 years in the world of biofeedback, I was pleased to see that Pausch believes, "In the end, educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective. THe only way any of us can improve... is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves. If we can't accurately do that, how can we tell if we're getting better or worse?"

I love chapter 39, "Be the First Penguin." He writes that "experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. .... It's a phrase worth considering at every brick wall we encounter, and at every disappointment. It's also a reminder that failure is not just acceptable, it's often essential."

Pausch tells the story that how, for the "Building Virtual Worlds" course he taught at Carnegie Mellon, he created a "First Penguin Award. "It went to the team that took the biggest gamble in trying new ideas or new technology, while failing to achieve their stated goals. In essence, it was an award for 'glorious failure' and it celebrated out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.

"The other students came to understand: 'First Penguin' winners were losers who were definitely going somewhere.

"The title of the award came fromt he notion that whne penguins are about to jump into water that might contain predators, well, somebody's got to be the first penguin."

"....Start-up companies often prefer to hire a chief executive witha failed start-up in his or her background. The person who failed often knows how to avoid future failures. The person who knows only success can be more oblivious to all the pitfalls."

Then he revisits the quote, "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted," adding, "And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer."

He writes, "'Lucky' is a strange word to use to describe my situation, but a part of me does feel fortunate..." I'll let you read the book to find out why. It may me think how, a few weeks ago, while driving on a weekend ski trip to Vermont, my old college buddy was driving close to the 65 MPH speed limit, hit some black ice, fishtailed, spun 360 degrees, rolled over the guard rail, rolled two more times down a 25 foot embankment, then hit a tree that brought us to an abrupt stop. I ended up with a very knuckle, and a small abrasion on the back of my hand. The car was VERY totaled, but we both walked away, relatively unharmed, so we were able to enjoy two days of double diamond expert skiing at Killington. I knew I was lucky. But as the experience has worked on me, I've come to realize I'm actually grateful for it. It's given me a fresh approach to life. I appreciate it more and push myself a bit harder to go deeper, in my work, play and relationships.

This book takes YOU to a multitude of ways of thinking about how to get more out of life. It's well worth the investment. Just throw a box of facial tissues to wipe away the tears from your eyes. I'm not kidding when I say I literally cried through over half the chapters.

Submitters Bio:

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

Rob Kall Wikipedia Page

Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the

Rob is, with the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.

To learn more about Rob and, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V..  and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table

Here is a one hour radio interview where Rob was a guest- on Envision This, and here is the transcript. 

To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click hereWatch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.

Follow Rob on Twitter & Facebook. His quotes are here

Rob's articles express his personal opinion, not the opinion of this website.