Reviews

Book review: When Breath Becomes Air

Book cover

When Breath Becomes Air

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 on much-loved literature, 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 does not allow for any self-pity and there is a spiritual quality to his compassionate musings on life and death.

Healthcare professionals and civilians alike can find much that resonates here. Recalling a young patient who was terrified by the idea of brain surgery, Kalanithi opted not to launch into a detached spiel, detailing the risks and complications, but to discuss the options with the patient and her family. She

...

When Breath Becomes Air

★ ★ ★ ★★

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 on much-loved literature, 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 does not allow for any self-pity and there is a spiritual quality to his compassionate musings on life and death.

Healthcare professionals and civilians alike can find much that resonates here. Recalling a young patient who was terrified by the idea of brain surgery, Kalanithi opted not to launch into a ‘detached spiel’, detailing the risks and complications, but to discuss the options with the patient and her family. She chose surgery and it was successful: ‘I had met her in a space where she was a person,' he says, 'instead of a problem to be solved.’

Paul Kalanithi| The Bodley Head|£12.99 | 256pp | ISBN: 9781847923677 hardback

Reviewed by Lisa Berry, editor, Nursing Older People

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