When Breath Becomes Air

When Abraham Verghese writes the forward and Atul Gawande calls a book “breathtaking”, its got a lot to live up to for me. When Breath Become Air by Paul Kalanithi lives up to the hype.

The book is written by a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Terminal lung cancer at the age of thirty-six. This book is about his life before and after his diagnosis, his transformation from doctor-to-patient-to-doctor-to-patient and coming to grips with death and mortality in an entirely different way.

The book is relatively short (258 pages) with an Epilogue by his wife, Lucy. It is worth every single page. Every single sentence. Every single word. His way with language makes me sad for what the world lost as a writer. Not to mention what it lost as a neurosurgeon. Like The Last Lecture, this book was searing and sad and heartbreaking.

Dr Kalanithi tells the story of his growing up in Arizona with a father who was a cardiologist. His mother, who was an activist to get AP classes in their high school. He went to Stanford as an English Literature major and ended up deciding to become a neurosurgeon and scientist. He discusses his journey through medical school and residency, through his diagnosis and everything that happened after.

The book is an excellent meditation on life – it’s meaning and a human being’s struggle to leave a legacy. The book made me think about my life and take stock of what I have accomplished and the things that I still want to accomplish. Not in a morose way, but in an introspective way.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I won my copy of this book from Goodreads and have not been compensated in any way for my review. All opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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