When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

The Last Word Review

Written from the heart this book is not just about dying but also about life and how live it


For anyone who has lost loved ones to Cancer picking up When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to read may be a difficult choice to make. But I would like you to take a few moments and read on before you decide not to read the book.

Already previously released in the United States and now a best-seller there, this hit the UK book shops just a few weeks ago. This is deeply passionate and written from the heart story from Paul Kalanithi after he was diagnosed with Cancer. An extremely talented and renowned neurosurgeon, with a deep passion for literature, poetry and the arts.

When Breath Becomes Air is basically a book in two halves with the first half talking about his studies and high honours at Yale School of Medicine. Paul also talks of his love of literature and poetry and how this helped shape his life. But for Paul the calling of medicine was strong and the need to learn were life meets death and everything in-between. After becoming a student doctor life became incredibly hard when in residency his relationship with his wife Lucy struggled with the enormous workload and hours before him. Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer at the age of 36 a man with everything to live for and even now just about to qualify as a neurosurgeon. With Paul and Lucy trying to find a way of having a life outside of work and planning for a family their world was shattered.


Lucy and Paul with their daughter Cady

As the book moves into the second half Paul discusses the treatment and coping with what lies ahead not just for him but those left behind. This is aspect of When Breath Becomes Air is sobering and written with such incredible prose despite the incredible suffering and pain Paul must have been in. When you start to evaluate the life you have lived and the time you have left every moment becomes more precious than you ever thought. As Paul wrote in the book ‘Doctors. It turns out, need hope too’

There is a quote in this part of the book that says ‘We are never so wise as when we live in this moment’ it may not have been written by Paul himself but this has stayed with me since finishing the book.

The final eight months of Paul’s life may have been the happiest as he and Lucy rediscover just how much they loved each other and two became three with the arrival of their baby daughter something they had been hoping for and filled Paul with ‘Joy’.

Paul succumbed to cancer on 9 March 2015 at the age of 37 with his wife Lucy beside him. When Breath Becomes Air is not just about death it is a celebration of life in fact it is very much life affirming.

Sadly, Paul never got to see his book published and it is his wife Lucy who writes the final words with such beauty and eloquence that it brought tears to my eyes. A wonderful man who fought his illness with such dignity and fortitude.

Life seems very different since reading this truly outstanding book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Thank you to Vintage Books for a NetGalley review copy.

When Breath Becomes Air written by Paul Kalanithi. Published by Bodley Head on 4 February and is available through all good bookshops.


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