Book review: When Breath Becomes Air

Book review: When Breath Becomes Air

I read ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi last week and it was awesome. I loved it so much, I finished it the same day.

Paul was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in his thirties, just as he was about to complete his training as a neurosurgeon. With the blink of an eye, he went from doctor to patient – just as everything he had worked so hard for was starting to come full circle.

The book is a reflection on his career and how he faced his illness and mortality. The surgery stories are just mind-boggling. I can’t get my head around how surgeons approach long, risky operations with a sense of normality. It makes you appreciate how gifted and special they are.

The braveness and selflessness with which Paul coped with his illness is inspiring. You have to read the book to get a real sense of it.

I’m also envious of how good the writing is. It’s deeply personal and easy to read, which must have been so hard to write. He effortlessly moves between being funny and dealing with devastating setbacks. The writing is so good, you often feel like you’re in the room with him.

I’m finding myself thinking about a few things after reading When Breath Becomes Air:

Paul left behind a wife and an eight-month-old daughter. The moments he savored with his daughter before he passed were incredibly moving. I could feel myself welling up, and even as I write this, it feels uncomfortable. My daughter Fearne is nine months and I couldn’t begin to think about not being a part of her life with Ella over the coming few decades. It made me think about being grateful for what I have and savouring my own moments with them even more.

I’ve also found myself reflecting on being a good person and living a good life. If I was asked ‘what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Paul Kalanithia?’ – I would say ‘he was a good man’. I would like for people to think that about me.

One of my favourite all time books and highly recommended.

Here are a few links for further reading:

Paul Kalanithi – Wikipedia
PaulKalanithi.com (his interviews and essays are grouped here)


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