When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

paul kalanithi book

There was a big lump in my throat while reading When Breath Becomes Air written by late neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. I was not able to stop myself from breaking down as soon as I started reading the epilogue written by his life Lucy Kalanithi.

The epilogue started with the news, “Paul died on Monday, March 9, 2015.” Tears started rolling out and I began mourning the death of a person I have never met but knows him in and out, thanks to this memoir. I fell in love with this adorable human being and my heart goes out to his family especially the little Cady.

Doctor Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi was an enormously admired and respected neurosurgeon working in Stanford. In the first part of the book he gives detailed and vivid insight into the tough life of a brain surgeon where even a minor negligence during operation can cost the patient dearly; tough decision to continue giving life support or letting go; supporting the grieving family of the deceased patient.

Tragic Role Reversal

His own ambition to become a neuroscientist was brutally trampled by Cancer. He was in last year of residency training when diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The disease occurred at the peak of his career and his whole world came crashing down.

Fight Back

Cancer might have been eating away his health but not his spirit. Paul began to nurture his dream to become a writer and he wrote this book in last 2 years of his life, 22 months to be precise.

Paul in true sense has shown the world how to fight cancer. A mission, a sense of purpose to complete the book provided a meaning to his life and fueled his desire to live each and every remaining days of his life instead of dying every day.

Once the book was finished, Paul’s health started deteriorating considerably and he decided to do away with the life support. He died on his terms and was peaceful in his last moments.

Title of The Book

I have never seen more intriguing title than this book. The title, When Breath Becomes Air, itself has so much to say. Breath indicates life. Breathing is a sign of living but when the same breath dissipate in air, it shows the cessation. The title is thoughtful, sentimental and fits with the content of the book.

The Verdict

When Breath Becomes Air will definitely fill the remorseful life of cancer patients with some zeal to live their life fullest before dying. Also Paul’s decision to give up life support shows that one doesn’t have to endure suffering till the cancer takes away the last breath.   This is the attitude one should have towards life. There should be a purpose in life who knows that purpose will provide you with the real meaning in life.

Paul through his memoir When Breath Becomes Air gives in true sense a really strong and powerful message to one and all. So you buy it, borrow it, rent it but do read it.

About The Author

Paul Kalanithi in desire to understand mind and brain studied Literature and science. He holds a graduate and masters degree in literature. Later earned an Mphil in history and philosophy of science and medicine from Cambridge and Stanford Universities before finally graduating from Yale School of Medicine.

Neurosurgery is the most difficult branch of science with a gruelling residency training. He choose it above all, was due to his fascination of mind and brain. He was also bestowed with the highest award for research in the field of medicine by the American Academy of Neurological Surgery and aspired to become neuroscientist.

He was survived by his large loving family, who firmly supported him all throughout his fight with cancer, his wife Lucy and a daughter Cady.

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Ritu Mantri

Ritu is an avid book reader. She also reviews books and have reviewed around 200+ books till date. Her target is to finish 1000 books.

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