Book Review - When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Define Yellow Photography by Shruti Bhutani

"Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete." - Paul Kalanithi, When breath become air

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi


Book Review

When Breath Become Air is a memoir of a young neurosurgery resident, who in his final year of residency is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. With the future plans of becoming a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist and a writer now on the back burner, Paul takes us through his journey of fulfilling dreams and assimilating the inevitable aspect of life and death.

Paul had a masters in English literature before he chose to study science and medicine. He was an exceptional neurosurgeon, who wanted to venture into neuroscience and contribute more to the field of medicine. He could not fulfil his dream of becoming a neuroscientist, but he lived long enough to write this book with the sole purpose of helping everyone understand the concept of life and death, from the perspective of a dying doctor.

I may be unaware of his greatness as a doctor, but as a reader I can say with confidence that he would have made an exceptional writer. His manuscript is well put together, with every piece fitting perfectly. It is unbelievable to know that he wrote this book, while he was undergoing his cancer treatments. He wrote while he struggled to breath, that shows his unfaltering attitude towards his dreams and life. As a first person memoir, his story is heartbreaking but also revelatory at the heart of it. He was a courageous man, who lived well into his last few days with the weight of death pushing down on him and his spirits consistently. Even though Paul died before he could finish the book, it feels complete in itself and pretty gratifying as well. Which makes his story so compelling and unburdening, as is the reality of life.

"No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night." - Paul Kalanithi, When breath become air

Final Thoughts

When Breath Becomes Air is a heartwarming story of a neurosurgeon going through a lot as a doctor and as a patient himself. The book depicts the colours of life and the reality of death. Paul Kalanithi is a wonderful writer and a courageous being, who wanted to share his outlook on life and death as both a healer and a sufferer. His story is worth reading. And the addition of an epilogue by his wife is heartening and buoyant, giving the readers a fresh perspective on life.

About The Author

Paul Kalanithi was an Indian-American neurosurgeon and a writer, born in Arizona, USA in 1977. He had a masters in English literature, before pursuing his bachelors in human biology. He went on to pursue masters in medicine and science. He has written many publications and articles on science, and When Breath Becomes Air is his first and only book. He was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer during his residency training and post doctoral fellowship in neuroscience. He died on 9th March 2015, while working on this incredible book. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.


Genre Non-Fiction
Price Rs 599 (Available for less on Amazon)
Pages 256 pages
Format Hardcover
Publisher Bodley Head
Availability Amazon

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Love & Peace
Shruti

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