When Breath Becomes Air


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.

Struggle is never too great as to overcome human endurance. Yet, in the face of death, what else can be done but to face it, eye to eye? Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air  illustrates the experience of life before death, marked by decades of emotion, passion, and fulfillment.

Serving as a neurosurgeon for years, Kalanithi, in his memoir, offers a deep reflection into his life and battles as a doctor-turned-patient after being diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer in 2013. While he details his life prior to illness, the author also provides an exquisite take on his struggles with the disease, questioning the meaning of life and the consequence of human identity.


1. Reconciles science and literature

When Breath Becomes Air is one of the most powerful stories I have read. Seldom do you see a book that argues the coexistence of the fields of science and the humanities. As a doctor passionate about literature, Kalanithi reconciles the two disciplines and clarifies that one cannot exist without the other, that the coexistence of science and literature builds upon life and human knowledge.

"Though we had free will, we were also biological organisms—the brain was an organ, subject to all the laws of physics, too! Literature provided a rich account of human meaning; the brain, then, was the machinery that somehow enabled it." 

2. Teaches us to accept adversities in life

In his accounts regarding illness, Kalanithi offers a fresh perspective towards adversity that many struggle to come to terms with. What I loved most about this book is its realistic portrayal of misfortune and suffering. Inevitably, we are bound to feel hopeless and weak when faced with suffering and mishap, but Kalanithi foregrounds the importance of acceptance: the willingness to endure an unpleasant situation. 


3. Timeless and real

As all literature, this memoir is a voice to everyone that not all has spoken through text. Years after its publication, this book transcends beyond its context to enlighten readers and offer a raw experience of terminal illness through the perspective of a doctor, now patient. I find that Kalanithi's book will never be irrelevent, for as long as readers continue to find value in literature and perspective.


4. Filled with emotion and heartache

Admittedly, When Breath Becomes Air is a difficult book to read because of its central themes on death, illness, and family. But it's gripping and it's real. It is clear through the words written well that the author has poured his heart to convey raw emotions and authentic experience on human life and identity, making this one of the best books to read and relate to.


5. imbued with power, meaning, and life lessons

Kalanithi teaches us that although life may not work out in our favor, there is always a reason to hold onto hope and find joy in the intricacies of life. Suffused with power, his words impart an impactful lesson on embracing life and seeking strength amid crisis.


★★★★★
jillian etc.