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When Breath Becomes Air
256 pages; Random House
Thirty-six-year-old medical student Paul Kalanithi is about to become a practicing neurosurgeon, when he's diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer—on X-rays he can read himself. For most of us, such news might produce paralyzing fear or rage. But Kalanithi not only continues to work as a surgeon, he also begins to write about the experience of illness and to reflect on the choices that define him. The result? An elegiac but never despairing chronicle of the short period between finding out about his terminal illness and his passing two years later. What elevates this memoir to greatness—and perhaps accounts for why it's rocketed to the top of best-seller lists—is not just how it confronts life's most difficult questions with the humanity of a philosopher, the expertise of a medical professional and the language of a poet, but also its generosity. Kalanithi invites us to accompany him on the toughest of our journeys, to look into the abyss and wonder with him, "If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar?".
— Leigh Haber