My book: The last lecture…


I’m introducing a new section of this blog that will be essentially about a review on say a  book I’ve just read, a movie I’ve just watched or even music that I’m currently obsessed with. Like I said blogging is about vanity and it can only get worse, so bear with me.

I have a good friend called Jay. She reads about two books a week; suffice to say she is a brilliant mind. Once in a while she will recommend a book for me to read. The last time I saw her she said, “There is a book you need to read, it will make you approach life and fatherhood differently.” I was piqued. The book is called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It’s a true story.

So over the weekend on a trip to the Lewa Marathon I read this book that was supposed to make me a better father and crystallize my life. Randy Pausch is a computer science professor dying of pancreatic cancer. He has eight tumors in his pancreas. His doctor announces that he has about three to six months to live. That was sometimes in 2007. Randy has three children, the eldest being 5yrs old, the youngest a daughter is just 1 yr old. Randy decides to give one last lecture to his university before he kicks the bucket. This last lecture becomes an instant success once it gets online. Today up to 10million people have tuned into this lecture and it’s stirred an emotional public debate on mortality and what not. This famous lecture was turned into a book, co-authored by some cat from the Wall street journal.


I devoured this book with a hunger that only a man curious about his mortality could muster. I was hungry to learn something profound and poignant about life, a pearl of wisdom that would make me a better person. But I got disappointed. I don’t want to trivialize the insurmountable anguish that cancer patients face. I won’t even make jokes about this guy’s deeply saddening woes; facing imminent death, knowing that in less than 6months he will live his young children behind. I won’t take a swing at this one.

But the book is not really about a guy who is dying; it’s about a guy who is living for his children. The lecture acts as a catalogue of his life so that one day his children would have a record of their father, a chest of treasure that would help them understand him and his tragedy. And so the book delicately balances on the pivot that he calls, “Really achieving your childhood dreams.”, and it’s full of bland anecdotes pulled from his own childhood; trips to Disneyland, tales of dreams he nursed as a kid and a whole lot of other musings from his childhood that started to wear me out. The book starts interestingly about this lecture and he tells it with some wit and humor, but soon it slips into this classroom prescriptive monotone that seeks to impart wisdom that you can easily find in a bible; treat people right, work hard, don’t cheat…


Sure there are some impacting pearls through this, for instance he says; never make a decision until you are ready to, or he says, when you are screwing up and nobody says anything to you it means they have given up on you. Helpful stuff that Jerry Springer won’t tell you. But I found it tiring at some point. I expected to feel sorry for this guy, but maybe that was not his intention because he gave reader sympathy a wide berth. The book never got emotional for me, and I waited patiently for it to tug at my heart, to break my heart. It never did. i wanted to really know how it felt like to have less than six months to live, instead it delved in wandering romanticism of life. The only part that touched me was towards the end of the book when after delivering his lecture and amidst the standing ovation his wife walks up to the podium while they hold tight in embrace she whispers in his ear, “Please don’t die.”

This book was a New York best seller (2008) for almost 2yrs! That’s big time. It has been translated into 46 languages and has sold 4.5 million copies in the US only. The author went on Oprah and made her and her audience cry…but then again people always cry in that show.

I couldn’t help but to feel a tinge of guilt at not feeling remorse for this guy, or his book, so out of curiosity I Youtubed this famous lecture and watched his Oprah interview. His lecture seemed livelier than his book and his debacle in Oprah was heart wrenching. Although undeniably the book is written with such bold courage and admirable strength it didn’t get me to a point where I felt the urgency of life, it refused to bring me to a point of self reflection instead it slipped into one whimsical lecture after another. Although death is horrific as it is jarring, the book limbs to a docile and very much disappointing end. Eventually I found it too presumptuous – and I say this with a lot of respect to this guy because he eventually succumbed to cancer in 2008 at age 47.

But please read it, you might find it revealing even if I didn’t.

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  1. Biko,

    I read The Last Lecture in a day and one thing that made me devour it was the simple language and the author’s writing style.

    The person who recommended it to me was not a priest or a woman but a guy – my professor – a literature scholar who read the book, bought 10 copies and dished them to his students. I asked Dr. Tom why he decided to give me a copy and what he told me made me stop, yes stop and think about ME not life, ME.

    You see we tend to live our lives based on other people’s rules. We are scared to take a loan to buy a car because we might lose our job. We are scared to love because we may get hurt. We are scared to give life our very best because of a string of silly excuses.

    Randy as i discovered after reading the book two times does not want to make the reader have pity on him. Instead, he wants us to live life to the fullest. We have dreams for ourselves, children and people we love but we take our time because unlike Randy we have good health. That was the revelation for me.

    From the book i learnt other things too:
    1. Life is not (never) fair – a smart campus professor and yet your life is cut short despite your success and your young family. We never accomplish our dreams, we marry people we don’t love, have a boss from Mars etc

    2. Have a positive mind – That is the gem that shines through out the book

    3. Live GREAT memories for your loved ones – his kids, wife, parents, parents in-law, students, you, i and other readers will always remember Randy

    4. Live life like it is your last day on earth – live your dreams, ignore what people say, don’t worry about the recession, pamper yourself… at the end of the day make yourself happy

    From the many lectures Dr. Tom has given me? Reading the Last Lecture finally formed my identity and made my dreams clearer and life very exciting!


    1. Hi, Biko. Your articles always make me laugh. Carole, I like your review-if I can call it that. Could one of you please email me a soft copy of that book? I am so inspired. I must read that book.

  2. Hi mate, I read the book four years ago and I totally agree with you Carole about the fact that we limit ourselves because of basic excuses. Bikozulu, you will have to seat back and read the book again.You might just connect in a different way and you will thank Jay for looking out for you.

  3. Biko,
    I agree with CK and Samantha on this book. It was recommended to me by a work mate in 2008 and i enjoyed it. Could not wait to get my own copy.
    For me it was about living life to the fullest, picking oneself up and appreciate those around you.
    But my best line was when he advices parents not to push their children to take up careers they are not interested. let them pursue their passion. As a lecturer he had seen many students cry in his office as they were pursuing their parents dream.
    It remains one of my best reads to date.

  4. I guess i’m the only person who understands what JB is saying…
    He’s not trying to take away from the writer’s plight,the book,to him, didn’t live up to all the hubbub about it…plus what he said didn’t have to be lectured on,it’s crap you’ll easily find on the side of cereal boxes and over played british rock songs…
    I guess that’s what he’s trying to say…

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  6. If you read the book expecting to have a voyeuristic look into the last moments of a dying man, you will be dissapointed.
    The Lecture was not meant to arouse sympathy or pity, it was meant to be a record for his children to read/watch and learn some life lessons from.
    Are there lesson at that could easily be found in the Bible, from wise friends, teachers, co-workers? Yes. But then aren’t all of life’s lessons got from these same sources?
    Biko, look at the book from the perspective of the writter, he was leaving a memoir to his children. This was never meant to be a book for the masses. It is a dying father talking to his children, giving them life lessons that he knows he won’t be there to personally impart on them.
    Since you are now a parent, I wonder if your review of thsi book has evolved of the years.