Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Interesting rating: Very
Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Would I recommend it? Yes

What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.

Lucy Kalanithi, wife

In When Breath Becomes Air, a dying Dr Paul Kalanithi faces death head-on.

What’s it about?

Paul is only 36 when he’s diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. A brilliant neurosurgeon, saving people is part of his DNA. But this time around, he’s the one who needs saving. In an honest account we get to know Paul the doctor, the husband, father and patient.

Why this book?

The author’s wife Lucy mentions his reason for writing this book in a 25-page epilogue; that Paul wanted to help people understand death and face their mortality. Personally, I hoped this book would help me to understand things a bit better from a cancer patient’s perspective. And although it was recommended to me a long time ago, I only started reading it after my dad’s passing (on 5 October 2021). I feel like the book provided great insights and that the author succeeded in what he set out to accomplish.

A few thoughts

– I could follow the account just fine, but this is by no means an easy read.
– I liked that the prologue placed the reader right in the crux of it, with the author’s lung cancer diagnosis.
– I can’t compare When Breath Becomes Air to anything else I’ve read, although similar books exist, of course.
– The epilogue written by his wife Lucy rounds off the text well. Even though Paul Kalanithi didn’t get to finish this book, it doesn’t feel incomplete.
– What I appreciated most about this book is its honesty. The author doesn’t try to come across as a saint and admits mistakes and shortcomings with pure genuineness.

To sum up

Its honesty makes When Breath Becomes Air worth reading. It brings a unique perspective from a cancer patient who also happens to be a physician. In addition, the epilogue written by his wife is a beautifully-written conclusion.

4 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Penguin Random House
Year: 2016 | Pages: 228
ISBN: 978-1-529-11094-4

Buy it here

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