‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi


Genre: Biography


My review of this book on ABC’s radio program ‘Overnight’ was published on 24/4/16 for anyone interested in the full review shoot me an email 🙂

‘Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I’m still living.’ -Paul Kalanithi

Is it possible for a book to be uplifting and deflating all at once? I think so. That’s because that’s the only way I can describe this memoir. Published in January 2016, it tells the story of Dr Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who at 36 was diagnosed with inoperable metastatic lung cancer. He started this book post being diagnosed and was concluded by his wife 16 months later, after his death.
Part one looks back on Kalanithi’s life on his childhood, his English degree completed at Stanford university which then led into his pursuit of medicine. This part of the memoir gives you an insight into his philosophical side, his passion for words and his desire to write. However this is juxtaposed by his desire to understand the human body in full and the progress of his medical degree. It’s an incredibly intimate memoir.
Throughout the entirety of this book, Kalanithi constantly strives for acceptance of this unfair disease though you feel his strength in making the most of the time he has left. A great read for anyone interested in neurology, philosophy or who just wants to hear about an admirable individual.

This book asks some profound questions about the purposes and paths we choose to take in life. You get the impression that Kalanathi is one of those people constantly striving for more. Not in terms of wealth but personal satisfaction and meaning. It’s eerie knowing how this story ends and it’s written with Paul knowing that his death will be sooner rather than later, particularly with how quickly Paul went from being a doctor, to patient, to father with this aggressive cancer.

It also provides an interesting insight into the medical profession, as he gives intimate stories that make you question the ethics related to doctors who we trust so emphatically.

In a section of the memoir he’s discussing the early years of medical school and dealing with cadavers (corpses) and he makes note that doctors almost never donates their bodies with an anatomy professor saying, “you wouldn’t tell a patient the gory details of a surgery if that would make them not want to consent.

A wonderful look at life but definitely will make you cry so be ready!













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