Best Books to Read: When Breath Becomes Air

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When Breath Becomes Air is a book written by Paul Kalanithi, who was a former neurosurgeon who sadly passed away from lung cancer. The book was written during the time after Kalanithi was diagnosed with cancer, and is an incredible parting gift that Kalanithi left the world.

When Breath Becomes Air is an extremely heavy book, and is definitely not something that should be considered as a light-hearted, easy read. However, if you are willing to bear with the emotions, it is definitely a book worth reading.

When Breath Becomes Air talks about Kalanithi’s time spent as a neurosurgeon (he was diagnosed during residency), and how his life completely changed after he was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. Before his diagnosis, he was on a rising path to become a well-renowned doctor, and his whole life seemed to be leading towards this moment. After his diagnosis though, his whole world was thrown into pieces as he knew that he didn’t have much time left. This meant that his entire work to become a neurosurgeon would be cut short, and he found it difficult to maintain focus.

Kalanithi also describes how the cancer diagnosis changed his viewpoint on doctor/patient relationships, as he went from being the one in charge to the one being treated. He began to see a lot of things that are wrong with the medical system, and how even doctors with the best intentions can make poor decisions. It is really a great look back on his career and what the medical industry could change, from the viewpoint of a doctor who became the patient.

I only just gave a quick synopsis of When Breath Becomes Air, and reading the actual book is a much more fulfilling experience. There are so many lessons about life and how quickly things can change, and it is necessary to have these reminders once in a while. While Kalanithi ended up passing away in 2015, he has definitely not been forgotten with this incredible book.

When Breath Becomes Air Recommendation Rating: 5

This post has now been updated to reflect a new ratings system that I have implemented, which is scored as follows:

1: Something worth checking out if you have time

2: Something that is a hit for some people, but not a must for everyone

3: Something worth prioritizing if interested

4: Something worth making time to check out

5: An absolute home run, worth going out of your way for


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