when breath becomes air
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Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers. 

At the age of thirty-six, Paul had reached the mountaintop. Ten years of relentless training and the journey from medical student to professor of neurosurgery was complete.

The Program Director at Stanford had said,

“Paul, I think you’ll be the number one candidate for any job you apply for.”

After all the strain neurosurgical training had put on his marriage, he could finally see himself becoming the husband he’d promised to be. He intended to have children and a family after completing his residency.

Life was offering him a lot after all the arduous work he had dedicated to becoming the best at what he did.

Until his primary care doctor called with his chest X-ray result.

And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.

The diagnoses said it was stage IV lung cancer.

when breath becomes air review
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As a teenager, he was certain he’d never become a doctor. He identified more as a writer and a philosopher. Growing up in a desert in Arizona, where his mother’s greatest fear was her children’s future and snakes, Paul came across a five-hundred-page novel which got him so fascinated with the human brain and its functions, he ended up enrolling into human biology at Stanford.

If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?

In his biography, Paul has narrated his journey of becoming a neurosurgeon, while he remained fascinated with life, its meaning and how the brain comes into play; something he termed as “biological philosophy”.

When Breath Becomes Air Book Review
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He studied English Literature at Stanford, completed HPS program at Cambridge, and went to Yale for Medical School. This was where he met his future wife, Lucy, whose capacity to love was barely finite.

He recalled his first anatomy class, the first birth he witnessed, the first patient he lost, first two days of residency at Stanford, first year, first surgery, an extensive list of achievements, and he did have a lot of them and then facing the existential quandaries his patients faced.

We see life as if we will never die, only until we come face-to-face with death itself. That is when we decide to see life from a very different perspective!

Every day, every moment, every decision, every outcome is different once you know this might be the very last one you’re having.

If the weight of morality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar?

Paul’s biography is a reminder of how life is meant to be lived and cherished. This is not a story about death or dying. It’s a story of life and about living.

I give this biography 5 stars because it makes you question your priorities. I recommend this book for those who are striving to find meaning and sense of purpose; those who often find themselves wondering where they are going wrong and why they are not doing what they would rather do.

when breath becomes air book review
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So, what would you change if tomorrow wasn’t promised? And more importantly, why are you not doing it already?