Sunday, October 29, 2017

Short review: When Breath Become Air by Paul Kalanithi

Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
Publication date: January 2016
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Memoir
Source: Borrowed

Description: 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.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

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?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

My thoughts: I was intrigued to read about the experience of a man who had been a successful surgeon becoming a patient with a serious illness. I wasn't expecting the book to be as philosophical as it was. Paul writes about how, in his university life, he was very interested in why people do certain things, what motivates people, etc. From there he moved to looking at, medically, how the brain works. He discusses why he himself was compelled to push on with his work as a surgeon despite it being an incredibly intense profession.

He also talks a fair bit about how people adjust to the news that they have a serious illness, maybe a terminal one, and how being in that position himself gave him a new perspective on many things.

Personally, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. It was all very reflective, thoughtful, and philosophical... so quite boring from my point of view! I think I had been hoping for more about the doctor/patient relationship, and how that was affected. I've read better books this year about working in the healthcare industry. While When Breath Becomes Air was an interesting book, and I'm glad I had the chance to read it, it didn't blow me away and I don't think it stands out on a shelf as being overly special. I'm giving it 6 out of 10.


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