The Last Lecture

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The Last Lecture Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Randy Pausch 's The Last Lecture. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch was born in Baltimore and grew up in Columbia, Maryland, with his older sister Tammy, his mother, an English teacher, and his father, who ran a small auto insurance company. Pausch received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University in 1982, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1988. While in school, Pausch briefly worked for Xerox and Adobe Systems, but after graduating from grad school he spent most of his career as a professor. First, he worked at the University of Virginia in the Department of Computer Science from 1988 until 1997. During this time Pausch took sabbaticals to work at the video game company Electronic Arts (EA) and also at Walt Disney Imagineering, which was one of his childhood dreams. In 1997, Pausch went to work at Carnegie Mellon University as an associate professor, and in 1998 he co-founded Carnegie Melon’s Entertainment Technology Center. He also started the Building Virtual Worlds course, which he oversaw for 10 years. During this time, Pausch consulted with Google, and founded the software project Alice designed to teach kids computer programming skills while they make stop-motion movies or create video games. In 2000, Pausch got married to Jai Glasgow, and they had three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe. In 2006, Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent a Whipple procedure in an unsuccessful attempt to stymie the disease. In August of 2007 he found out the cancer was terminal. On September 18th, 2007, Pausch gave his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon entitled ‘Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,’ which became a viral hit on YouTube and led to Randy appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show in October of 2007. The popularity of his lecture led Pausch to receive a book deal for $6.7 million, and, with the help of his co-author Jeffrey Zaslow, the book The Last Lecture was published and became a New York Times best-seller in April of 2008, remaining on the best-seller list for 112 weeks. Pausch died of complications relating to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008.
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Historical Context of The Last Lecture

Randy gave his last lecture just three days after the beginning of the financial collapse in 2007, near the end of the George W. Bush administration. The book was released just a couple months into Barack Obama’s democratic primary campaign.

Other Books Related to The Last Lecture

Pausch’s book could be compared to many modern memoirs, as it details essentially all of Randy’s life, from his childhood to his adulthood, just as Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes does. As a whole, the book most closely resembles When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, another book written by a dying man who will be survived by his wife. Tuesdays with Mory by Mitch Albom shares thematic similarities in that it is largely about learning and teaching in the face of death. In the general non-fiction category, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande deals directly with how patients and doctors deal with dying.
Key Facts about The Last Lecture
  • Full Title: The Last Lecture
  • When Written: Late 2007 to early 2008.
  • Where Written: Maryland
  • When Published: April 8th, 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir, Advice, Self-Help
  • Setting: Columbia, Maryland; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Charlottesville, Virginia; Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida; and Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
  • Climax: During Randy’s last lecture, he tells the crowd that this lecture isn’t just for them… it, and this book, are for his kids, too.
  • Antagonist: Randy’s cancer, mostly, and the lack of time Randy has left to live.
  • Point of View: Aside from the foreword by Randy’s wife Jai, the story is told from Randy Pausch’s point of view.

Extra Credit for The Last Lecture

Star Trek: Randy was invited by J.J. Abrams to do a cameo in the Star Trek film released in 2009. Randy accepted, and got to say the line, “Captain, we have a visual!” near the beginning of the movie.

Ghostwriter: Jeffrey Zaslow, Randy’s co-author, is also the co-author of Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.