Paul Kalanithi is like no other physician I know of. A talented neurosurgeon who charts his course for becoming a doctor, making it look easy while choosing a difficult specialty. He makes his mark not as a successful and precise surgeon, though he is certainly those things, but as a caring and emotional human being who insists on becoming more to his patients through empathy and understanding. After taking on a grave diagnosis of his own, Kalanithi shows by his own example the power of personal choice in how we show up in the world.
Told with a depth and honesty akin to someone putting themselves through the rigors of true self-analyzation, Kalanithi reminds us that a critical diagnosis is just a small piece of the puzzle. Though When Breath Becomes Air (January 2016) is told after he became ill, Kalanithi takes us back to his mindset that existed before his wisdom’s full expression and pieces together his journey in the hope that it might hold meaning for others.
Kalanithi expresses how early in his career the weight of what he was about to undertake affected him. Throughout the book, he continues to describe with surgical precision many of the procedures he completes while simultaneously confronting who he is in those moments and what his contribution to the overall effect is, including the counseling of patient and family.
Lyrical, lovely, and utterly heartbreaking, this story will inspire you to ask the right questions and the possibility of living a better version of yourself.
Reviewed by Maria Ryan
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