When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

My second Torch Under The Covers recommendation is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Although I’ll usually be blogging about fiction, this memoir is an absolute must-read.

What happens?

Paul Kalanithi is a successful neurosurgeon on the way to a prestigious surgeon-scientist role at one of the US’s top university hospitals when he begins to feel unwell. He ignores his sneaking suspicions of cancer until they become unignorable. When the news comes that he has cancer he decides that, as part of his career long search to understand the relationship between life and death, he needs to tell his story.

The book tells the story both of his training as a neurosurgeon and his “career” as a cancer patient. (The introduction makes it clear that this is published posthumously). He tells us about what he’s learned about the brain and how we understand death from an almost unique double perspective: that of a supremely intelligent and thoughtful surgeon and then that of a patient inside the healthcare system.

Why’s it a Torch Under The Covers read?

Whew. It’s not easy reading – the author makes us confront the truth about dying – that it will happen to everyone. Kalanithi’s voice is so clear and searching that you just *need* to finish his book. You know what’s going to happen, which makes it almost unbearably sad – but also uplifting. Kalanithi’s heart breaking experiences are, through his faultless prose, transformed into philosophical material. You won’t be able to leave him till he’s finished telling you his story.

How quickly did I read it?

In one day. What higher recommendation?!




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