When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi, 2016)

when breath

Why did you choose this book?

I can’t remember if I’ve touched on this before or not, so bear with me.  One year ago my mother passed away from glioblastoma (stage IV brain cancer).  Since then, these sorts of books about dealing with life and death have intrigued me.  See my earlier post about Home is Burning by Dan Marshall.

What’s it about?

Paul Kalanithi spent his life training to be a neurosurgeon.  Just as he was about to finish his residency, he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  He has since passed away.


Biography/memoir, medicine, terminal illness

Other recommended reads?

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014 National Book Award finalist, graphic novel) and Home is Burning by Dan Marshall (2015).


I read this entire book in 2 hours.  I finished The Dead Duke at 11:30 on a Saturday night and started this book.  I couldn’t sleep until I finished around 1:30 am.  First, it is full of insights into the struggles of a person entering one of the most challenging and strenuous medical specialties.  Second, it is the philosophy of someone whose sincere goal in becoming a doctor was to better understand the human mind and to make a difference.  He never stopped trying to become a better doctor and trying to understand more about people, the world, and the places where the two meet.  Third, Kalanithi had a gift for language.  The prose is some of the most beautiful I’ve read in quite a while.  Take, for example, the book’s final paragraph (best when read aloud, as stated in the book’s introduction).

“When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied.  In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

Up next?

The Martian by Andy Weir (yes, I’m finally reading it)


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