When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi ｜Book Review
Hello Readers, this week’s book hit me hard! We are discussing When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
The background story that led to the writing of this book is important. Dr. Kalanithi was a Yale med school graduate finishing his residency as a neurosurgeon. However, in May of 2013, Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. This book covers life before and after his diagnosis and offers insight and reflective thoughts on the meaning of life and coping with death. This book can resonate with readers in so many ways, however I am simply going to focus on what impacted me the most.
Here is my review!
Appreciate the moment
This powerful book offered so many impactful lessons. The overarching message that stuck with me, is that I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I found a new sense of importance in embracing the current moment and learning to appreciate what I have. Kalanithi had his whole life mapped out, he had plans of how is life would be once he completed his residency. He imagined what path he would be on for the next 5, 10, 20 years.
However, the cancer diagnosis changed everything. This long-term plan for the future is scrapped, and the present moment becomes of highest priority. Questions such as “Am I going to live to see another day?” and “Will I have time to start a family?” take priority. I always find myself planning ahead, trying to pave the path of my future that I sometimes forget how great the current moment is. Kalanithi has taught me that the beauty of the current moment shouldn’t be undervalued. We often take for granted that tomorrow will be another day for us. At the end of the day, when I go to bed, I now try and take a few moments to appreciate all the people, opportunities and luxuries I have in my life.
There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.
Life can change in an instant
This relates to my earlier point about being appreciative of the current moment. In this book we see Kalanithi, a man with an incredible career and tremendous intellect, have his life changed forever in an instant. Even though I didn’t know Kalanithi personally, I felt a connection to his story through his expressive writing. It’s heartbreaking to see Kalanithi document his physical deterioration. Through reading Kalanithi’s words, I had a new-found appreciation for the uncertainty of the future.
You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving
While tragic, the way Kalanithi documents his journey and the literary expression makes the book flow beautifully and engages the reader. Kalanithi captivates you throughout this journey and offers raw and unfiltered insight that impacts the reader. Another positive of this book is that it helped me realize that death is inevitable. Kalanithi shows through his own bravery that living in fear is not how we should approach life.
Life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.
Who should read this book?
Although people from all walks of life could form a connection with Kalanithi’s words, I would encourage young people (I know young is a relative term) to read this book. I say this because I feel like my generation doesn’t necessarily have a long-term view of life and how quickly life can change. This book would help young people discover a new sense of appreciation and put things in perspective.
I also think medical students and doctors should read this book. I say this, because there is a lot of information that is tailored towards you that Kalanithi shares from his extensive experience in the field of medicine and neurosurgery. Kalanithi shares his experience of diagnosing patients and the irony of suddenly finding himself as the patient himself. I think this is a unique perspective that would benefit people in the field of medicine.
About Paul Kalanithi
RIP Dr. Paul Kalanithi