When Breath Becomes Air- Paul Kalanithi

Updated: Jan 6, 2019

Rating- 10/10



'When Breath Becomes Air is, in a sense, unfinished, detailed by Paul's rapid decline, but that is an essential component of its truth, of the reality Paul faced.'

I remember months ago browsing my local Waterstones and seeing this book from afar, feeling so drawn to it. I loved the title and cover of the book and when I read what it was about I thought to myself- 'I gotta get this book someday'. I eventually bought myself a copy online because I was craving a satisfying, nourishing, intense novel. 'When Breath Becomes Air', was exactly what I needed. It was refreshing to read a non-fiction book too.


When Breath Becomes Air is an autobiographical book by Paul Kalanithi. It chronicles his transformation from a young and eager medical student, to a respected neurosurgeon. He almost completes a decade's worth of training and out of nowhere, he gets diagnosed with inoperable stage IV lung cancer. He goes from a surgeon at Stanford University treating all kinds of terminally ill and dying patients to finding out he himself, will most likely die from this aggressive cancer. Just like that, his life has been completely turned upside down. Everything he has worked for, his future with his wife, his long career, comes to a halt with this heartbreaking news.


In his memoir, Paul Kalanithi faces some hard questions from his young medical student days, to his doctor days and at the stages of his cancer diagnosis. Some are about human nature and the reality of being alive, what makes life living in the face of death? What kind of life is worth living? How does one have a child, and nurture a new life while another wilts away? This is a curious book, a bold book, it doesn't shy away from those complex questions we sometimes don't want to face, and it's as much about death as well as the celebration of life itself. Paul Kalanithi really is a beautiful writer, in his early life, he's actually inspired by great writers, philosophers & poets. He had gone into academia to try to get to the bottom of 'What makes human life meaningful?'. Later on, he studied biology and neuroscience to try and understand the rules of the brain, an organism capable of finding meaning in the world.


This is also a book about family, work life, love & religion/beliefs. His wife Lucy, also plays a very significant role in his life, it's a beautiful memoir of their life from beginning to the bittersweet end. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, aged 37. He wrote this autobiography after he was diagnosed with lung cancer and it was later published after his passing in 2016.


If your after a courageous, exquisitely written, vivid, and life affirming book then definitely add this to your reading list. I myself rarely read a book twice in my lifetime but with this one, I would definitely read it again and again. (I would have to with all the doctor terminology in it!) It's funny, while I was reading this I had a pretty strong rating for it to be a 7/10 but as the book went on the rating got higher and higher, and at the end. Wow. It's heartbreaking, hopeful, so very 'in your face' real, gripping & breathtaking. One of the best books I've read this year hands down, I highly recommend it. Especially if your a doctor, nurse or just a regular human too like me :) A must read.

Lucy Kalanithi (Paul's Wife):


'Although these last few years have been wrenching & difficult- sometimes almost impossible- they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love.'

Click Here to purchase your very own copy on Amazon Books :)

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