When Breath Becomes Air- Paul Kalaniti


Paul Kalaniti has been studying and working for ten years. His residency is almost over and he shows great promise as a future neurosurgeon.

Then Paul is diagnosed with incurable lung cancer, his future seems to be slipping away as he starts to loose his role as a doctor to become a patient.


I mainly picked up this book because it seemed like it would be a medical memoir that saw things from two sides. To an extent it was that, but it was much more personal.

Kalaniti had always wanted to find some meaning in life, he started off studying literature; believing he could find something there, then he moved into medicine- maybe some practice involving life and death would give him that? Whether he gained more from medicine is somewhat unclear but it certainly seemed to be the right path for him, and his relationships with his patients in particular seemed to add something to his knowledge of what life was all about. But it was only when he was staring death in the face that Kalaniti found what was important to him.

In some ways it being both a doctor’s memoir and a patient’s memoir made it not quite an adequate version of either. I found the descriptions of his patients and surgery to be a bit lacking, and his own medical knowledge meant that his patient experience was not typical. That does not mean it was not a good memoir overall. It was interesting to see where Kalaniti the doctor and the patient overlapped, and the particular issues that came with knowledge.

There was also a sort of unfinished feel about it. Almost unedited. I wonder how much of that was due to the fact that Kalaniti died whilst writing it (something expected) and how much was to do with posthumous editing. The epilogue written by Kalaniti’s wife gave some closure, but it is real life, nothing should be a closed book. So it did mean that as a reader you came away with wanting more but in a way that was perfect for the book- it was like a sense of mourning.

I definitely recommend this book, just don’t expect an emotionally easy ride.


Buy it:

Paperback (£5.96)

Kindle (£5.49)

Or listen for free with an audible trial

Other Reviews:

So Many Books, so Little Time

Worth Getting in Bed For

1 Comment

Filed under health, medical, Memoir, non-fiction review

One response to “When Breath Becomes Air- Paul Kalaniti

  1. Pingback: Deals of the Moment- December 2018 | Lucybird's Book Blog

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