Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Health
First published: January 12th 2016
Publisher: Random House
Finished reading: November 18th 2016
Pages: 208
Rating 4,5qqq

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”


I have been reading more memoirs and non fiction reads than average in 2016, but Paul Kalanithi‘s story is without doubt one of the most powerful ones I’ve read this year and it deserves being nominated for Best Memoir in the Goodreads Choice Awards. When Breath Becomes Air is powerful, raw, emotional and simply heartbreaking… The story of a young neurosurgeon who lost his battle against cancer, a man who tried to write down the story of his life as he was trying to race against the clock. This rush especially shows in the last part of the memoir he managed to write himself, but that only makes this memoir more authentic and adds a whole other level to it. It’s hard to write about and/or criticize the work of a person whose life and dreams were cut short, and I have decided not to take in account the minor flaws in the prose and pace that might slow down the reading at points. The mismatched pace is a sign of a man who ran out of time, and desperately tried to finish what he had always wanted to do at some point in his life: write a book. If you are looking for a powerful memoir and don’t mind having a few packs of tissues ready, pick up When Breath Becomes Air. You won’t regret it.


Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of thirty-six, just as he as about to complete a decade worth of training as a neurosurgeon. Suddenly, his life went from making a living treating the sick and dying to being a patient himself… And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. In this memoir, he wrote about his connection to literature and questions about the virtuous and meaningful life, and how he ended up deciding to study to be a neurosurgeon. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future suddenly flattens out into a perpetual present?


When Breath Becomes Air is without doubt one of the most powerful and emotional memoirs I’ve read this year. If you look critically, the prose might have a few minor flaws and the pace wasn’t perfect, but that is all soon forgotten if you just think about who wrote this story in the first place and his background. Paul Kalanithi was a man running out of time, and yet still determined to follow his dream and finally write his book as his legacy. Powerful throughout and the final part written by his wife was especially moving.