Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”

― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

American physician Paul Kalanithi is the author of the nonfiction autobiographical book When Breath Becomes Air. It details his life and his fight with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. Random House released it as a posthumous edition on January 12, 2016.

Synopsis from Wikipedia...

In his last year of neurosurgical residency at Stanford University, Kalanithi experiences negative changes in his health. Rapid weight loss and severe back and chest pains begin to raise concern for him and his wife, Lucy Kalanithi. He worries that cancer might have caused his symptoms and his decline of health – unlikely for people in their thirties. However, when the X-ray results in a routine medical check-up return normal, he and his primary care physician attribute the symptoms to aging and work overload.

Determined to finish the last months of his residency, he ignores whatever symptoms have not subsided. A few weeks later, the symptoms come back, stronger than before. Around this time, Kalanithi and his wife experience conflict in their relationship when Lucy feels that he is not communicating with her. Visiting friends in New York, Kalanithi is almost certain that he has cancer and says it out loud for the first time to his friend Mike. Returning home, upon landing in San Francisco, Kalanithi receives a call from his doctor telling him that his lungs "look blurry." When he arrives home with Lucy, both of them know what is happening. The next day, Kalanithi checks in to the hospital, and the room where he examined his patients, delivering good and bad news, becomes his own.

My reaction to this novel...

This is a book that, in my opinion, you cannot put down once you have read it. Because of the subject, I was first a little hesitant to grasp it, but after receiving multiple recommendations and assurances that it wasn't all hopelessness, I gave it a go. I am glad I did. Paul Kalanithi was an excellent neurologist before learning that he had lung cancer, which despite therapy spread and ultimately resulted in his untimely death. Paul was also a wonderful and very talented writer who, in his long-term intentions before they came to fruition, planned to spend twenty years of his life after leaving his clinical profession, chose to write. In this work, his ability to compose is evident. His use of words is excellent, and he expresses himself in a virtually beautiful way while being utterly true to the situation he is in.

Funny enough, I thought this novel was more about life than death. Paul talked about his experiences with medicine and the privilege of being able to change someone's life through a medical procedure. He is seen to be managing his own sickness venture rather than having it specified to him. He keeps working and wants to have a family with Lucy, his girlfriend. He describes the difficult transition he wants to make from being the expert to being the patient and how he isn't always successful in doing so.

Following my reading of the book, I had a mix of awe and comfort. Dazed by the realization that someone as extraordinarily talented and convincing as Dr. Kalanithi was taken from the world at such a young age. Confident in the knowledge that despite having only lived for 37 years, he shown what humans are capable of in their highest forms. His family may have faith that his book will serve as a lasting tribute to him and that it will be treasured forever. I wholeheartedly suggest this work to all readers.

My Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐(4/5)

Where to buy this book...


Disclaimer: Booksreadbyhannel is not a business website. The opinions expressed here are unbiased and based only on my own feelings and reactions while reading the books I featured here in my blog. My reviews reflect my utmost sincerity. I paid for the books I review here out of my own pocket. Books provided by authors and publishers are otherwise specified.