Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

Author: Paul Kalanithi

Genre: Memoir

Pages: 228

Rating: 9.8/10

What if you went through years of schooling, earned a Masters degree in English Literature, then found your calling to become a physician? Could you fathom enduring 10 more years of school and medical training? Imagine then having only a single year left in your residency before your career begins and being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Can you imagine looking back on your life, at 36 years old, and wondering if it was well-spent? If it was meaningful?

Paul figured that starting a family could wait until his medical training was finished. He supposed that a life spent writing novels could perhaps be postponed to his retirement years. It’s ironic, although Paul had a passion for writing, he was certain that becoming a surgeon, neuroscientist or even a professor, would touch more lives, help more people, and was the right career path. After completing his surgical training, his body riddled with cancer, Paul wrote a book that continues to move  millions of people. 

In When Breath Becomes Air, Paul takes you through his journey: childhood, schooling, love, marriage, and his never ending quest to understand where spirituality, science, and the meaning of life intersect, “I was driven less by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: What makes human life meaningful?” (page 30). Throughout life, and even more so post-diagnosis, Paul is on a carousel of anger, confusion, acceptance, piousness, pride, and wonder.

You’ll find the details that I’ve mentioned in the description that the book offers. It is not just the story that makes this book incredible, it is Paul’s words. I read a lot of books and they all offer me something: information, distraction, humor, intellect, at the very least an interesting story. It’s rare that I find a book that offers incredible insight and perspective like When Breath Becomes Air did. I reread several passages to make sure that I felt the full weight of his words. I continue to ponder his message and have a stronger passion to fulfill a meaningful life. I encourage you all to read this memoir knowing that everyone can take something from it.



  1. Marie

    Beautiful review! I have heard great things about this book from other blogger friends and I’m glad to hear that it had such a powerful impact on you as well. I have read a couple of quotes from it and they stayed with me just as well – I’m hoping to read it someday 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. blondevsbooks

      Thank you!! I put a lot of thought into the review, the book deserved it. At only 228 pages in the hardcover edition, it’s amazing the message that he’s able to deliver. I highly recommend!

      Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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