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


Want to read more?

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Standard
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?