This post contains affiliate links. Were it not for my book club choosing When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanitihi, I would not have read this book because it’s about a man dying. I don’t know if I’m too sensitive, or if it’s because I watched my own father die of cancer when I was just 15, but these types of books never sit well with me. I find them incredibly difficult to get through, and this book was no different.
About When Breath Becomes Air
The book has three segments.
In segment one, Kalanithi writes about his youth and his time training to be a neurosurgeon. Honestly, I found this part of the book most interesting, and had Kalanithi never been sick, I could see this as a book he would produce at the end of a long career as a neurosurgeon. I enjoyed reading about his childhood in Arizona and how bright he was. I also liked reading about his college education and his love of literature. Some parts of his neurosurgeon journey were difficult for me to read. (I really don’t need to know there are so many awful ways to die and so many awful things that can happen within the brain!)
The second part of the book is after he receives his diagnosis of lung cancer. This is when I started to struggle with the book. His oncologist refused to give him an estimate of how much time he had left. I could see why she would do that because then he still had hope. However, not having a rough timeline left him floundering. Should he stop working and become a writer? Should he continue with his neurosurgeon career and finish residency and graduate? Should he try to continue on the coveted path he was on and pursue lucrative job offers that continued to pour in even after his diagnosis?
The third part was written by his wife, documenting his decline and subsequent death.
My Thoughts on When Breath Becomes Air
As someone who is extremely sensitive to this type of topic, the book was a bit too much for me. I realize other people see this book as inspiring and laud Kalanithi for showing how to live in the face of death. However, I just found the book depressing and sad. The rating I give it is based more on my own personal feelings about this topic rather than the quality of the writing.
I give When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 3.5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.