Memoir, Nonfiction, Philosophy

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath COVER

I’m going to do something I’ve never done on this site, which is to reveal my rating for a book at the beginning of its review. When Breath Becomes Air has earned a solid 10, pure and simple. We’ll work backwards from there.

Let me also say that nothing keeps me away from reading a book or seeing a movie more than “hype” surrounding it. The little cynic in me says, “OK, prove it.” So often the material does not live up to the hype, and who wants that disappointment? There has been a lot of that with this book. Ergo my cautious avoidance and wary delayed approach.

When it became available as an audio book on the local online library site, I downloaded it, but with the condition that it was competing with two other books already on my iPhone. “We’ll see how good it is,” I thought.

A few days ago, with the audio version accompanying me on a 130 mile drive, my opinion changed completely. Suddenly, I was glued to the journey of Dr. Kalanithi, an accomplished neurosurgeon in California who was about to start his surgical residency and, almost simultaneously, was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer.

Lung cancer for a non-smoker seems especially cruel, even more so for someone with such a promising future ahead. The second son of a family of doctors, Paul had received two Bachelor’s Degrees from Stanford, a Master’s from Cambridge, and his MD from Yale. His work was highly regarded and his medical papers were winning awards.  What of this spectacularly unfair turn of events?

One of the words Paul uses frequently is “trajectory.” In regards to his career, his marriage, the possibility (or not) of children, his faith (or lack thereof,) and his future, his trajectory would have to be reset. Not just once, but over and over again.

Now, about my rating. I do not give a “10” lightly. Only a handful of books have qualified. Like other “10” books I’ve read, When Breath Becomes Air never lost my attention. But, more importantly, it is exquisitely written. Not a word or sentence out of place, perfect word economy, and every thought expressed is done so with quality and depth. This is no accident. The author himself once considered writing as a full-time profession.

Instead, it is his legacy.

I highly, highly recommend When Breath Becomes Air. It is eye-opening, witty, fascinating, and majestic. You will not be disappointed.

With all my heart– 10/10 Stars!!



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