I have never been a big fan of memoirs or biographies. However, Bill Gate’s on Paul Kalanithi’s autobiography motivated me to give this genre a try. I remember picking up this book on a train journey, and finishing it in one go.

Death is never easy, especially when you know it is coming. Paul, a young ambitious surgeon who was at his peak, suddenly finds out that he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. When breath becomes Air, is the journey from this realization to his very last breath.

What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.

There are basically two different sets of experiences that the author goes through - one, is how he being a doctor takes on the challenge of being a patient and two, is the obvious personal and professional trauma he and his family undergoes. The author also shares his view on faith & science and how he distinguishes between them. Those thoughts would not be as impactful as they would seem when supplemented with the raw & blunt writing of Paul Kalanithi.

I personally found the whole narration of his residency days a bit boring and lengthy. However, that very part gave an inside look to the surgeon side of the author, which in retrospect becomes very important to understand the whole story. Paul’s motivation and strength to write this book in the middle of all the pains of chemo-therapy is highly commendable. But I guess, writing was always Paul’s first love and he died doing what he loved the most.

I did not know this person before reading this book and neither did I search about him after reading it. But the kind of impact his words and his thoughts create is boundless. I am sure Paul would not have liked to make his book a synonym for death and tragedy. Read it to understand a magnificent man who lived the best he could, and at the end that is what really matters.

I am sure I will pick this book again. This book has so branches of meanings that you ought to discover new ones when you read it again.

This was the life he was given, and this is what he made of it.

Here are some of the highlighted lines which I totally fell in love with -

  • If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?
  • You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur.
  • I don’t believe in the wisdom of children, nor in the wisdom of the old. There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.
  • Looking out over the expanse ahead I saw not an empty wasteland but something simpler: a blank page on which I would go on.
  • You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.
  • When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.
  • Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult—sometimes almost impossible—they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love.

(I have a long list of highlights, do ping me if you want to read them.)