“When Breath Becomes Air”

“When Breath Becomes Air” is an autobiography about a neurosurgeon named Paul. The context of the book has become very popular because of its insightful nature. The book revolves around the life of the surgeon Paul Kalanithi, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at a young age. However, he makes sure he lives a meaningful life despite having little time left for him to live. At first, Paul had no interest in medicine, and he focused mostly on literature. This was mainly because of his mother’s influence, who provided him with literature materials after relocating. However, he found insight into medicine after reading a book called “Satan,” which made him make a major U-turn in his life. His decision to venture into medicine was unpopular, considering his father was a doctor and spent little time with his family, an act that Paul found disappointing. “I knew medicine only by its absence – specifically, the absence of a father growing up, one who went to work before dawn and returned in the dark to a plate of reheated dinner (Kalanithi, 2016).” Just months before graduation, Paul was a gifted neurosurgeon resident at Stamford. He was also a phenomenal writer, with two degrees in English from Stanford. He was a master of two professions, considering his prowess in the field of literature. In his book, he beautifully bends art, emotion, science, and structure into an eloquent book about death, making the context of the book more interesting.

Paul Kalanithi’s death serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of living. In the future, he had the potential to be a great leader in the field of neurosurgery. For the most part, he’s dedicated the majority of his adult life to expanding his horizons across a wide range of disciplines, including literature, physics, philosophy, and even business ethics. When he eventually made the decision to go into medicine, he didn’t simply want to be a doctor. He wanted to make a difference. Even so, he went above and above to get to know and empathize with his patients on a deeper level. When they were diagnosed, injured, or underwent surgery, he wanted to help them and their loved ones adjust to the new reality. It doesn’t matter how long he thinks he has left; he wonders what he can do to fill it. The toughest life questions for him revolve around whether or not he should stick with an industry that has given him so much and provided the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many. It’s unclear if he should keep his distance or confront the unsteady concept of death and figure out what it’s worth. Also, he wonders about the responsibilities he has to himself and to his newborn daughter. Many fascinating parts of his experience, like his shift from a “all-powerful doctor” to a patient who was both “so forceful in a surgical coat yet so timid,” are included in this book (Kalanithi, 2016). There were no hard truths of responsibility or moral compromise for him in medicine, therefore it remained an idealistic endeavor. When he realizes he is soon to die, the couple decides to conceive a child and return to the religious faith in which he was raised. In spite of the fact that his death is a huge loss to the medical community, his legacy is preserved through a magnificent book.

For more than a century, modern civilization has consciously chosen to ignore that death is a fact of life. As hospitals and funeral homes became more readily available, it became easier to keep death out of the public eye and avoid talking about it altogether. For a while, many people believed that merely thinking about death was harmful and abnormal.

However, a recent study has shown that being aware of death, including thinking about it and reading it, can have good effects. Compassion, tolerance, and empathy all rose in tandem with an increased knowledge of death. Our priorities shift when we realize that our time on this planet is finite. For many of us, this includes the well-being of others. Concerning the book, when Paul realizes that he will eventually die, he tends to change his lifestyle and focuses on having a meaningful life. For example, when Paul realizes he won’t live long, he decides to secure his plans for having children and deposits his sperm before the start of chemotherapy.” The next day, Lucy and I went to the sperm bank to preserve gametes and options. We had always planned to have kids at the end of my but now… the cancer drugs would have an unknown effect on my sperm (Kalanithi, 2016).” 

According to the book’s content, everyone is a suitable audience for the book. The book offers good advice on the best way to live a meaningful life and the best way to approach death. For instance, In the book, Paul advocates the importance of end-of-life care to make death less difficult for doctors and patients alike. He suggests that patients can avoid the pain and hardship associated with a slow and difficult death or an unnecessary prolonged life by discussing end-of-life care with doctors. With this information, everyone can be in a position to understand the cruelty of death and hence reduce the hardship experienced in the loss of a loved one. Also, in his book, he explores the main ups and downs of his individual life and the contradictions within. He demonstrates how doctors can eventually become patients and how everyone should wake up to the fact that we will have to deal with death in life. Kalanithi explains that these struggles do not have to be without meaning and that meaning can be found in our work, passion, and time spent with our loved ones. In addition, meaning can also be found in the pursuit of science, medicine, philosophy, literature, and during terrible experiences.

            He explores the sudden cruelty of some lives and the importance of acceptance and preparation for our deaths in his story. He advocates increased awareness around end-of-life planning and care. Hence, when the information is relayed to the public in this case, it would create a new understanding of the aspect of life. Hence, individuals would be encouraged to live a meaningful life and how to handle death if it eventually occurs. What response does this book prompt in you?

The book has given me new inspiration in life. Paul’s life has changed my view on the aspect of death. I have realized that one can still make an impact in life even after being on the edge of life. He can make important life decisions that give his family and friends a less harmful experience after his death. Also, through his story, I have understood the importance of listening to what people go through, even if they are approaching death. As a result, I’ve discovered that a well-lived life may have a profound effect on the people in your life as well. When things get tough and you’re faced with life-or-death decisions, it’s at these moments that you should ask yourself if it’s even worth living.


Kalanithi, Paul. 2016. When Breath Becomes Air By Paul Kalanithi. Random House New York.

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