Format: Library book
Links: Goodreads | Amazon UK
Blurb: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
Review: I don’t really know why I’m bothering to review this. If you’ve already read it, you’ll know that no matter what I say isn’t going to do it justice and if you haven’t read it, believe me when I say my review isn’t going to do it justice. In fact I don’t believe any review will do this stunning book any justice. I read this in 2 sittings. And it was only 2 sittings because I had to go asleep and wasn’t able to finish it in 1. I’m not a non-fiction reader really but I believe this is the sort of book that everyone would benefit from reading.
When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi. He spends a decade perfecting his craft and training to be a neurosurgeon then one day, he’s diagnosed with inoperable and terminal lung cancer. This book shows us Paul, in his every state of being. A doctor, treating patients. Some dying and navigating his way through the doctor-patient relationship, to becoming one of the dying patients he’s been treating all these years. Paul talks about life, death and the meaning of it all. And what makes a life meaningful.
This book was split into two parts; in the first, Paul talks briefly about his childhood, growing up and school. Moving on to figuring out what he wanted to do with his life and whether his heart lies with medicine or literature. He documents his education into becoming a neurosurgeon and all the trials and tribulations that he faced along the way. I loved this chapter because this was the one where Paul really questions the big life and death questions, when he’s faced with dying patients and patients which rely so heavily on him.
Part two is where Paul flips the switch and the focus is on him, his own cancer and his own questions or mortality, life and meaning. When his own life is now altered by his diagnosis. This was a hard chapter to read about Paul’s decline, his treatments and just the general pain and suffering he felt when his body was riddled with cancer which affected his almost every move. But despite all of that, Paul manages to go back to work as a neurosurgeon for a short time, showing his determination and strength amidst all of this.
The book finishes with a chapter from his wife, Lucy, who “completed” the book after Paul was too ill to continue writing and died before the book really ever got finished. This is the part that broke me in half, hearing his wife’s account of Paul and his strength and attitude towards everything that had happened to him was heart wrenching. The pair were clearly so in love and it was heart breaking to hear her talk about her final weeks and days with Paul and their only 8 month old baby who will grow up never knowing her dad.
I put this book down in floods of tears to the point where I thought, ‘I’m genuinely never going to stop crying over this‘. It’s not that I haven’t read stories, seen films or watched documentaries about people with cancer. I have, plenty but this book struck a chord somewhere deep inside me which I can’t imagine anything else of a similar nature will again. So eloquently written, so honest, so real. Absolutely heart-breaking but utterly profound at the same time. Once I’ve stopped being so sad about this book, I just know that I’m going to be thinking long and hard about some of the issues brought up in it. Love, life, death and what makes a meaningful life.
* Just as an end note I would say that you should be careful about reading this book if you’re squeamish or triggered by graphic depictions of surgery (there’s a lot of this in the first part). It also sent my health anxiety sky-rocketing at some points which thankfully I managed to subdue so if you suffer from HA, please also be wary, too.
This sounds like an incredible read. It is the sort of book I’d like to read!
Hope you enjoy! 🙂
[…] life, and reading them is an enjoyable experience at the same time. Another favourite of mine is ‘When Breath Becomes Air’, by Paul Kalanithi, which really makes you think. Even taking time out to read a book about helpful […]
Wow, what a heartbreaking but eye opening story! Like you, I don’t read much non-fiction but this book sounds riveting and a book that everyone needs to pick up at least once! I’m adding it straight onto my Goodreads To-Read list!
Tabitha xx | whattabithaloves.co.uk
It really is I’d agree! Hope you enjoy xxx
I’d never heard of this book before now, but will definitely be on my Amazon wishlist for when I’ve read my other two currently on my bedside table.
Amy | hookedonthemusic.com
This sounds incredible, but very hard to read. I definitely want to give it a shot but even your review has me welling up – life is so bloody unfair sometimes.
It really is. It’s such a worthwhile read but you’re right, it is difficult xxx
Oh boy I really want to read this! However… I have pretty bad anxiety when it comes to medical talk… so I’m wondering if this book would be to intense for me…. BUT I REALLY WANT TO READ IT lol you’ve described this perfectly thank you for sharing!!!
I do too and I found it hard but I would honestly recommend it to everyone. It’s life affirming.
Oh wow, this sounds like a very powerful and moving read. Great review.
It really was, two words to sum it up perfectly.
This books sounds like a incredibly moving and one I need to put on my list of books to read.
Moving is definitely the right word!
I read this book last year on holiday and I agree no review can do it justice! What a story!! An incredible man and an incredible book
It really can’t can it? This book will stay with me for a very long time!
I’ve been recommended this book so many times, I’m almost too scared to read. Being a doctor has made me realise that even though we can be incredibly strong and resilient, we are still very fragile at the heart of it all.
Mind The Medic
I think you should SO read it if you’re a doctor. I’d literally recommend it to everyone but I can imagine being a doctor will be a totally different experience reading this book. Do let me know if you ever do!
I’ve been meaning to get to this book for ages! x
Hope you get around to it soon 🙂
I have not read this book and feel very ignorant because I had never heard of it before. It sounds like a very emotional almost hard story to read. But it be interesting to read someone story from being the one to curing people to the one needing treatment and being powerless despite all their knowledge on the matter
Awh no don’t feel ignorant! It was very hard to read but you summed it up perfect in your last point!
I hadn’t heard of this book before reading your post but it definitely sounds like something I’d be interested in reading. I’ve recently started getting into non fiction novels and this sounds like such an incredible book. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.
You’re welcome – would definitely recommend if you want to get into non fiction!
wow, this book honestly sounds amazing. The fact you said you can’t justify how good it is in this reviews makes me believe that it so really amazing. This is 100% going to be one of the next books I buy, I might not read it straight away because I know it is going to be so sad! Thanks for the review ! xx
Ah I hope you enjoy it!
This might be one I read when I’m not feeling emotional as just reading your words gave my chin a wobble!
Definitely don’t read it if you’re emotional!
I’d never heard of this book before your review but it sounds absolutely beautiful. I’m going to add it to my list. I think I’ll end up in floods of tears though! X
You definitely will!
I love reading your book reviews they’re always so detailed and you always leave me wanting to read the book! I’ve been wanting to read more non fiction so this seems like a great place to start! Thanks for sharing lovely!
Jess // foundationsandfairytales.wordpress.com
Awh thank you very much. This would be a great place to start with non fiction xxx
I have heard about this book. The truth is I am scared to read it, but as you say, everyone should probably read it. Thank you for this great review.
Don’t be scared, just be prepared to read a lot of truths. Nothing scary about it.
Oh my gosh, this sounds like such a good book! Definitely adding this to my Reading List!
Amazing book but a difficult one.
I think I’ll have to read this. I’m obsessed with anything surgery related. If only I’d had the Science smarts at school! Grey’s Anatomy fills that void though haha.
Haha you should like this, it’s VERY graphic!
I’ve been looking forward to his review since I saw your tweet about reading it. I need to bump this Higher’s up my TBR.
Hope you liked it! Do let me know if/when you start reading it! xxx
I loved this book, very honest, very humbling
Glad you enjoyed it too! xx
How long does it usually take you to read a whole book? Xx
It depends on the book, this was an exception. Usually about a week.
This is sounds like such an interesting read.
I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book from family members and other bloggers, I really want to get my hands on a copy and check it out. Really enjoyed reading your review babe 🌸✨
With love, Alisha Valerie x | AlishaValerie.com
Thank you – would highly recommend xxx
It sounds interesting – I gifted a copy to my dad last week! x
Hope he enjoys it! xxx
I’ve never heard of this book before but it definitely sounds amazing! I’ve added it to my list to read!
Love, Amie ❤
The Curvaceous Vegan
It certainly is xxx
What a thing to happen in someone’s lifetime – and I’m sure the book is amazing. Fabulous review – this could be on July’s reading list I think x
Thank you x
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope to read this one day, I even ordered it online, but I’m reconsidering due to my own situation. I’m currently going undergoing chemotherapy and I’m not sure the nurses would approve.
I don’t think it’s the nurses decision on what you read! If you think it’ll benefit you then read it x
Thanks so much for sharing this book review, I had never heard of it. It’s added to the list and sounds very eye opening
It really is c
Great review! I thought it was a wonderful book and an extraordinary tribute to a good man. It’s not the kind of book I usually read, but I’m glad I did. You’re exactly right about the book: “Love, life, death, and the meaning of life!”
So glad you enjoyed it too! xx
I actually just teared up reading your description of the book, so I can’t imagine how I’ll feel if I actually were to read it. It would get to me for sure.
Oh no, sorry! It certainly would but I think it’s worth it to be honest x
This book had me in TEARS when I read it. My brother recommended it to me and I was just amazed and inspired. Your book reviewed described the book so well. Good job!
Thank you! I don’t think anyone can really describe this book unless you read it though. Glad you enjoyed it xx
definitely an emotive read, God love him and his family xxx
I think it took me a month to get over my depression from reading this one.
Oh gosh I’m not surprised xx
Wow this sounds like a powerful book although one I’m not sure I can read after my husband fought cancer last year – it’s all a bit too close to home.
A lot of people in similar situations have said it’s actually helped them!
I had never heard of this book but have bookmarked this post so can add it to my reading list. Your review really resonated with me so I’m sure the book will do wonders and to think it’s something so personal of the author, it definitely sounds like a must read.
– Soffy // themumaffairs.blogspot.com
Thank you I hope you enjoy it xx
Jenny, this sounds incredible. I was thinking when I read that his wife wrote the final chapter ‘wow, I bet that’s hard to read’ then you said it ‘broke you’. I can’t even imagine how emotional this read is. But I love non fiction anyway, you’ve definitely made me want to read this!! Great review x
I hope you enjoy it! Emotional indeed. But definitely worth reading xxx
I haven’t heard of this book before but it sounds amazing. I’ll be honest with you I would love to read it but I’m not sure if I could handle the heartbreak and grief. I have added it to my TBR list and when I’m feeling strong enough I will definitely be reading it.
Melanie | http://www.frasersfunhouse.com
I’d highly recommend it anyway to be honest. It’s heartbreaking but completely life affirming! xxx
I’ve heard of this book but have never got round to reading it, although I really want to! Your book reviews always describe the story perfectly and make me want to grab myself a copy. It sounds like a book that really makes you appreciate life. I’m adding it to my wish list. Thanks for the fab review Jenny 💖 xx
Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com
It really was it just made me deflate really with all the things I thought I knew, it was so eye opening. I hope you enjoy it! Xxx
Wow, this book sounds incredible. I definitely would be someone crying while reading this, especially with the way you describe the last chapter from his wife. It sounds like such a good read, but if I would be able to handle it is another question! Stuff like this can really get to me, but I would really love to give it a try and read it. Great review 🙂
It will get to you but I think it’s totally worth it. It’s such a life affirming read xxx
I want to read this sooo bad since so many days. Maybe this is a sign for me to actually buy and read this amazing book.
You should go and grab yourself a copy!
This book helped me get over the death of my Uncle
It really is a powerful book, I think it can help a lot of people x
This book was just… wow… I get what you mean when you say words can’t do it justice. This is a must read for sure!
Totally agree. So hard to put into words!
My mother really wants me to read this one! It’s waiting for me on my bookshelf… I guess I really should get to it!
You should, you won’t regret it!
I have lost so many people now I’m a lot older, and shed so many tears, with the best will in the world, I don’t think I’ll read this amazing-sounding book. My heart goes out to his widow and daughter. A good review nevertheless.