Every once in a while, not too often, you come across a book that blows you away. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is one such book.
I first heard of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, when I read his article How long have I got left? I then read another piece Before I Go and I was fascinated by his story and his powerful writing. I was sad when I heard about his death and when his book came out earlier this year, I bought it fairly quickly.
I think I started the book sometime in the afternoon and could not put it down until I finished it later that night. The story was heartbreaking, honest, deeply moving, and yet, in a strange way, uplifting.
What blew me away was the quality of the writing–it is terrific and in some places, it sings like poetry (in prose) on the page. It is incredible that someone who trained to be a neurosurgeon could also write in such an accomplished way because doing one of those things is hard enough, being able to do both is amazing.
When I finished reading the book and thought about it later, I was sad because there is no great body of work of Paul Kalanithi’s that we can read–there are only a couple of articles and this book. But, if you had to write a book about your life while dying of cancer, what a stunning book to write.
The quality of the book is enhanced by the foreword, written by Dr. Abraham Verghese, author of the beautiful book ‘The Tennis Partner’, and the epilogue, written by Paul’s wife, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, who, Paul asked to “shepherd the manuscript of his book to publication.” Lucy Kalanithi’s essay in the NY Times is also a must-read.
If you have not yet read When Breath Becomes Air, you are really missing something. It’s the best book that I’ve read this year and considering that I’ve been lucky to read some terrific ones, that’s really saying something.
Seriously. Go read it; you’ll be glad that you did.