When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?”

“What is the meaning of life?” This question haunts everyone at least once in their lifetime. From the ones going through dire circumstances to the ones drawing their final breath on the deathbed, each of us question if our life has a purpose and what makes it worth living.

“When breath becomes air” is one such a story about a neurosurgeon’s examination of his life when he gets diagnosed with lung cancer. At 36 when Paul is about to finish his residency, he has the exact vision of how his life would look like. But his world turns upside down when he learns he doesn’t have much time left to live.

In this memoir, Paul reflects on his early life when he was struggling to find his identity. He talks about the events that led him to choose neurosurgery as his profession and his eventual journey from becoming a doctor to becoming a patient.

The writing is beautiful. It is powerful because of its honesty, vulnerability, and hope in the face of tragedy. There are questions and then there are conclusions. There is a deep contemplation about life, identity, purpose, and mortality. It makes you scrutinize your life and the world around you.

This book gives us insight into Paul’s life as a doctor and how his perspective about looking at death changes after he confronts his own. I’m amazed by Paul’s indomitable spirit and the way he navigates through his life after learning about his illness.

This book is incomplete as Paul could not finish it in time. Nevertheless, he gave his best until the end. Life is short and unpredictable so we should make the most of whatever time we have left. That’s how Paul lived his life and this book will inspire you to do the same.

About the Author:

Paul Sudhir Arul Kalanithi (April 1, 1977–March 9, 2015) was an Indian-American neurosurgeon and writer. His book When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir about his life and illness battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. It was posthumously published by Random House in January 2016. It was on The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller list for multiple weeks.

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