When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.

This is the autobiographical story of an incredibly gifted person, Paul Kalanithi, written while he was dying of cancer, only in his thirties.

The author describes his life and morals, from childhood, to medical school, to his English degree at Cambridge, to operations as neurosurgeon and, finally, fighting cancer in his last weeks.

Paul Kalanithi was a truly extraordinary human being, valedictorian in high school, then Standford, Cambridge and the Yale School of Medicine. A neurosurgeon with great writing skills, dedicated to a have meaningful life. Paul finds out he has cancer and despite some minor improvements, he succumbs to the illness. Cancer took him in less than two years.

An inspiring sad story.

However, before he died, he wrote this extraordinary book, talking about his life and eventual death, about time and meaningful things, about his patients and his family.

His writing is so fluid, words are well chosen, vocabulary is vast and he grasps such a deep understanding of things. The readers finds himself moved with emotion at every page.

It is an honour, a source of inspiration and a pleasure to read about humans pushing the boundaries of what can be done, to show true skillfulness and quality, and, above all, great strength of character and bravery.

The book is the Goodreads choice winner of 2016. I could not recommend it enough.

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