Sunday 10 April 2016

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Being Mortal was one of my best reads for 2015.

When I spotted Atul Gawande's quote on the front cover of When Breath Becomes Air, I was, therefore, instantly attracted.

I'm not sure why I'm so compelled to read about death and dying right now, although, perhaps like Paul Kalanithi, it would be truer to say, that death, dying and the meaning of the life have been lifelong fascinations for me, not just a once off flirtation.

Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. But now I knew it acutely.
When Breath Becomes Air is a beautiful written, intelligent and very human discussion on the meaning of one person's life and the internal struggle that ensues when that person realises that their time on earth is suddenly very limited.

Kalanithi covers religion, faith and callings. He wonders what it means to have the ability to do good and what our legacy ought to be. He questions meaning and purpose and values. His personal search connects us to greater universal themes.

Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.

Kalanithi was a reader. He devoured books and ideas from a young age.
The Death of Ivan Illyich, Andrew Marvell, Dickens, Twain, Austen, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Last of the Mohicans - all these shared books and authors somehow made me feel closer to Paul, that somehow we had created a relationship of 'human knowledge' that reached beyond the grave. By sharing these ideas and words, I could help to keep a small part of Paul alive. The ideas and books that fired him up and inspired him, have had a similar effect on me. Maybe one day, when I am gone, the people who read my words and share my book loves will also carry a little bit of me onwards - 'it is never complete'.

When Breath Becomes Air is poignant and sad, yet also uplifting.  It is one man's deeply felt and contemplative search for meaning and understanding.

Highly recommended.


  1. Anonymous10/4/16

    I've hesitated to read this book after all the media buzz.
    It sounded so sad...and of course there will be uplifting segments, but I'am afraid I'll have to be in the mood to read the book. Enjoyed reading your comments and they have brought me one step closer to 'When breathe becomes air'.

    1. Yes it is sad, but that's not the focus or the dominate emotion. Paul said, "I had to face my own mortality and try to understand what made my life worth living." A big part of the book was therefore about all the things that make life worth living.

  2. We're on the same wavelength on our reviews this week! I definitely want to read this book.

  3. This looks really thought-provoking…thanks for the review!

  4. Ooh, I don't usually pay attention to author blurbs, but Atul Gawande's is one I'd notice too! I'm glad it ended up working out for you :)


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