When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


Breathe. I love that word; it can be so versatile; powerful and desperate; a demand, statement or plea.




(Can you hear it?)

Breathing is essential to life; you don’t need to be a doctor to know that. In my opinion it is the easiest of our bodily functions to explain; when in exams I’m most likely to come across a question that looks something like this:

“Describe the pathway of air into the lungs and how the structure of the respiratory system and its function helps to aid the action of breathing.”

And if you’re stuck on a question; looking up for inspiration (bio pun 😉 ), and happen to be sitting in one of the chairs within a one desk radius of myself, you’ll notice when I come to answer this, my left hand will be pressed against my chest, my right hand against my middle and my eyes closed. Because I know if I breathe, my body will tell me the answer my brain can’t remember. Breathing is the most natural thing we can do; the first thing our body must learn to do when we are born. I have the answer; I am my own personal cheatsheet.

The beauty of studying the human body is that you have a human body.

Kalanithi was human; and his own body betrayed him by attacking itself. The function of breathing which was a God given right turned into a struggle; something which must have been earned by Taking Care Of Yourself and Not Pushing It Too Far Today.


To start with; it’s incredibly difficult to sum this one up but I’ll give it a try:

  • Human
  • Honest
  • Enlightening

But then it was SO MUCH MORE…

In this book of defiance, I became Kalanithi’s friend; and he mine. It could be considered a book of confessions of living and what it entailed to live very fully and be waiting for the peak; the peak you planned for; the car, the holiday, the leisure of finishing a task; and to be cut short of that; his mandate which he swore his life to; is infinitely unfair.

And whilst I half whispered/sobbed into the pages sometime around 3am “It’s not fair…” I was joined in unison by Kalanithi screaming on his knees in his own despair from the ink of his book, “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

A plea, demand and statement.

Paul Kalanithi’s book has an impossibly, important message for the immediate population; regardless of profession. Read it because you’re human, and seeing the world from the other end of the line really puts things into perspective.





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