Book Review : When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi @rocketgirlmd @singh_nikita @hinatekchandani

Title : When Breath Becomes Air

Author : Paul Kalanithi

Genre : Non-Fiction ; Memoir ; Autobiography ; Health ; Medical

Pages : 208

When Breath Becomes Air” is the Book of the Month for the month of October, selected by the members of Nikita’s Bookshelf Book Club. 

When Breath Becomes Air: Kalanithi, Paul, Verghese, Abraham: 9781984801821: Books


For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question ‘What makes a life worth living?’

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.'” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both. 


When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of an American Neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi about his journey through his Stage IV of Metastatic Lung Cancer. This book talks about life and death and many essences of mortality. This book has been posthumously published in the year 2016.

Paul Kalanithi was a Neurosurgical resident at Stanford University, he was at his final year of his residency when he was diagnosed for cancer. After spending a decade in building his career in the field of medical science, this diagnosis was a great blow. Through this book, he had taken the readers through his valiant journey in battling the cancer. Though he was talking about his diagnosis, the tone and voice of his narration was very strong, brave and confident. He wasn’t trying to get sympathy from the readers or telling his unfortunate fate, he was guiding the readers how to face unfortunate situations bravely. The level of his confidence and his determination even at that kind of a situation was extraordinary and unbelievable. This increased my respect and admiration for him by multiple times.

Paul loved literature and science the most, this unlikely combination was extremely fascinating and how he correlated what he had learnt with his real life experience was magnificent. His love for literature and how well informed he was about it, was extremely inspiring.

He had also taken the readers through his medical journey both as a doctor and as well as a patient. He had shared a handful of his experiences and encounters with his patients. How he dealt with his patients and how efficiently he performed surgeries on them, showcased how good he was as a doctor. The medical details and nuances was written in such a way that it was appealing even for non-science background readers. I vividly remember all his patients he mentioned in the book.

The foreword was written by Abraham Varghese, who said in the beginning of the book itself that Paul’s words were like a music and it was indeed true. While reading his words, it felt like a music to my ears, it had a rhythm, beat and flow, I have never had this kind of a feeling while reading a book especially with non-fictions. Paul Kalanithi was an exceptional writer with so much caliber.

The relationship and love between Paul Kalanithi and his wife Lucy was exhibited in a subtle but in deeper manner. I cannot stop thinking about Lucy the entire time, what she must’ve a gone through and I admired her so much for she was being strong for both of them. The love between them was emanating beautifully through the pages of the book. I loved and admired her so much.

Paul’s greatest desired and wish was to publish this book, I’m so happy that it got published as he wished for but what was more heartbreaking was he couldn’t complete the book completely. Though the book wasn’t completed fully, it didn’t felt incomplete. It is just that the reader in me yearns to read more of him and didn’t want the book to end.

My views

Before starting the book itself I know it was going to be sad read. I’m that kind of a person who cries so very badly even when fictional characters face unfortunate incidents. With this book, knowing that it is the real-life story of Paul and Lucy, I could not handle it. I was reading it in an extremely very slow pace as it was extremely overwhelming. Even with reading a few pages I will be choked up, I’m that sensitive and the story that unfair. But what was more surprising and commendable was, Paul was being strong for all of us.

After reading this book, I was looking into Paul’s family photo along with his wife and his daughter. It was one small happy family. That picture made me both happy and sad at the same time. The little message he left for his daughter was the best. And I adored every little moment Paul and Lucy shared. His life as a doctor inspired me. His love for literature made me awe. His ability to face death directly in the eye without fear stunned me. The world didn’t have the opportunity to spend a little more time with him, that’s all I can say but even with the short life he lived, he had brought about a lot of impact in many people’s life.

It was an heart-breaking read. I cried the most while reading the epilogue written by Lucy Kalanithi. It was unbearable and painful.

Paul and Lucy, the bravest of people, I have ever come across.

Everything that’s said in this book has been engraved on my heart and it will continue to stay there forever.

My rating for this book would be 4 out of 5 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I recommend this book to all the medicos, you guys should definitely read this book. And I would also like to suggest everyone to read this book because it is a must read in a lifetime kind of book. Please read it!

Get the book here!!

Do read it without fail!!

~ Meenu


  • Meenu Annadurai

    Meenu Annadurai is the founder & editor of The Nerdy Bookarazzi. Meenu is a Customer Specialist by day and a writer by night. She published her debut novel 'A Place called Home' with Half-Baked Beans which is now available on Amazon. She is insanely addicted to her bookshelf and super possessive about them. She is in a serious relationship with her current Book Boyfriend.

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