Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
This is one of the most profound books I have ever read. I must admit, I thought twice about reading it initially due to the subject matter, wasn't quite sure I wanted to read a book where I assumed I would feel sad and faced with the reality of my mortality, which wasn't a place I wanted to venture to. I didn't want to be reminded that life is precious but unpredictable and could be swept from under your feet so suddenly and untimely. But this book didn't leave me feeling like that at all. Yes, of course it made me feel sad that a young man's life was taken from him at the age of 37, leaving behind him a wife and child. A man whom, while alive, made the most remarkable difference to other peoples lives as a neurosurgeon.
However, instead, this book has left a lasting memory and impact on my life. If I ever found myself in a similar situation to Paul Kalanithi or anyone close to me did, I would make them read this book. Incidentally, I would encourage everyone to read this book. It is the most inspiring, intense and heartfelt book, told through the eyes of a most intelligent and insightful person. It almost makes you feel that Paul Kalanithi's life was exactly mapped out for him from the minute he was born. I'm not a religious person but I do believe in fate and that life takes you in a certain direction for the right reasons (even if this doesn't appear clear at the time).
To be diagnosed with cancer when he was just about to complete 10 years of training as a neurosurgeon is both cruel and a waste of life for someone who could, and did, perform miracles for others. But if anyone could make sense of it, it's this man, and without self pity. He spent his life interested in the human brain, how it works, how life exists within each of us and how it is taken from us. He didn't just want to fix people, he had a deep rooted interest in human life and its mortality. So it was quite ironic (or intended if you believe in fate) that he then became faced with his own. To go from the doctor having life changing conversations with his patients, to being put in the shoes of those patients himself.
When Breath Becomes Air is quite a short book that can easily be ingested in one or two sitings, it's impossible to do it in less. It is the most empowering book that will leave its mark on you. I don't think anyone could put into words this journey any better than Dr Paul Kalanithi.