Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a 36 year old neurosurgeon who was just graduating from ten years of medical and specialist training and residencies when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He didn't have the option of learning gradually what that meant; he knew immediately his chances of survival were very poor. One day he was on the threshold of a brilliant and absorbing vocation; the next he was a patient, dependent on what others could do for him as he struggled for life and purpose.
When Breath Becomes Air is his memoir of a youth in the desert in Kingman, Arizona; of sampling literature and neurobiology at Stanford; and of his choice to leave the study of literature and philosophic abstraction:
Kalanithi died in March 2015. During his two years fighting the cancer, he finished his neurosurgery residency, fathered a daughter, strengthened his family ties, and wrote this book. His life had been about trying to figure out what it all meant; so is his account of his own road to death.
This is a beautiful little book, full of gems, of lapidary descriptions of moments of experience. I read it first by ear, but ended up buying a hard copy: I needed to be able to lend it to friends. I don't do that often.