Review: When Breath Becomes Air

“The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

cover71692-mediumWhy do we do what we do – choose a career in science, in business, or in the arts? Why do we procreate, and why do we sometimes choose not to? Is it that we are avoiding the inevitability of life – death – or are we actively working to meet it with our highest expectations?

During his mid-thirties, Paul Kalanithi is faced with a life-changing cancer diagnosis.

He is a neurosurgery resident with a unique grasp on literature and the philosophy of mortality – which in part, contributed to his career choice.

So as a means of addressing his diagnosis, Kalanithi explores his journey towards becoming a neurosurgeon, and reflects deeply upon the sacrifices that were made in his endeavours. And he writes When Breath Becomes Air, a stunning memoir that can be widely read.

While Paul Kalanithi offers fascinating insight into mortality, it is his personal journey through medicine and into terminal illness that strikes deepest for me. He affirms the value of an engaged and introspective physician, and the importance of a calling that is simultaneously a taxing job.

Like his life, his book ends abruptly; but the lovely additions of a foreword by Abraham Verghese and an epilogue by his wife Lucy Kalanithi adds a truly special dimension. It becomes more than a memoir: it becomes a study of mortality.

See some of my favourite quotes from the book here – but note that these are from a review copy and subject to change!

Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book via NetGalley and Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.


    1. And Happy New Year to you too, Nancy!
      It is compelling, and also deeply personal; it’s hard to do the book justice really. It gave me hope for the healthcare professions…

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