Book review: When Breath Becomes Air

Editor of Cancer Nursing Practice, Lisa Berry reviews When Breath Becomes Air.
When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

The Bodley Head

£12.99 | 256pp

ISBN: 9781847923677 hardback

Paul Kalanithi died from lung cancer in March 2015, aged 37, while working on this memoir.

The book is largely a reflection on one question: what makes life meaningful and virtuous? Drawing often on the literature he so loved, Kalanithi explores possible answers at each stage of his life: as a medical student, promising neurosurgeon, patient and new father.


Beautifully written, in a calm, matter-of-fact style, the author allows for no self-pity. There is a spiritual quality to his compassionate musings on life and death.

Healthcare professionals and civilians alike should find much that resonates here. I marked a number of sections, but for this review perhaps the following is most appropriate.

Recalling a young patient who


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