“Books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world.”
Published: Jan 12, 2016
Rate: 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.'” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.
I first read when Breath Becomes Air back in 2017, the reread it last year for Nonfiction November & I can confidentially say my feelings of the book haven’t changed. I loved it then & I love it now. The emotions were still there even though I already new what the book is about. This is the kind of book that makes you follow it page by page, slowly tearing you apart with no hope of putting you back together.
Kalanithi writes in such a serious yet underlying humorous tone as he talks about his life. The book follows his significant change from being a doctor to a patient, while providing insights on his personal life as well. He tries to give perspective from both the eyes of a doctor and a patient and it makes for such a good read.
“If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining.”
My favourite thing about the book is when Paul Kalanithi tries to make sense of what life is to him and examining how he lived his. It prompts the reader to take a step back and evaluate their own life in comparison.
The epilogue, written by his wife Lucy, was a good ending to the book, emotional yet calming.
When Breath Becomes Air is a heart wrenching, well written book that I believe one should read, at least once in their life. I definitely recommend.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts on it?