Weekly Reads: When Breath Becomes Air

Olivia Midrigan // The Watchdog

“If time dilates when one moves at high speeds, does it contract when one moves barely at all? It must: the days have shortened considerably”

– Paul Kalanithi, “When Breath Becomes Air”

“When Breath Becomes Air” is the autobiography of a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, who gets diagnosed with lung cancer. It’s a heartfelt account of his path to becoming a neurosurgeon, from how he chose his career to the difficulties he faced in becoming it. At the beginning of the book, Kalanithi admits to going into college adamant that he would not become a doctor and thinking he might be a writer. It’s interesting watching the circumstances that eventually made him change his mind and how he comes back to writing after his diagnosis. 

The book also navigates the transition between becoming a doctor and becoming a patient. It details what was going on in his marriage and how he tries to continue his work through a lens of extreme and almost surprising honesty. He includes lots of quotes from classic literature and immerses you into his life and circumstances, creating an atmosphere where you just feel grateful for what you have.

Kalanithi writes with a deeply philosophical view on the eventual end of his life, and there’s an urgency in the chapters that doesn’t let you put the book down until you’re finished. And then you immediately start over from the beginning. The pacing of the book makes it a pretty quick read, around 225 pages, and it’s one that sticks with you for a while afterwards.