Physicians: Don't miss this memoir on mortality by Dr. Paul Kalanithi

A memoir by Paul Kalanithi, MD, a neurosurgeon who died an early death, is being called "as intimate and illuminating as Atul Gawande's Being Mortal," by The New York Times.

"I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option," writes Janet Maslin in The New York Times book review. "There is so much here that lingers, and not just about matters of life and death: One of the most poignant things about Dr. Kalanithi's story is that he had postponed learning how to live while pursuing his career in neurosurgery. By the time he was ready to enjoy a life outside the operating room, what he needed to learn was how to die."

The book, When Breath Becomes Air, chronicles the life of Dr. Kalanithi, who died last March from stage IV lung cancer at age 37. He found out just 22 months before his cancer was terminal.

Yet he remains committed to writing the book, so much so that he wore "silver-lined gloves to use the trackpad when his fingertips began to crack during chemotherapy," according to The New York Times review.

Dr. Kalanithi had two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree in literature from Stanford (Calif.) University and a Master of Philosophy from the University of Cambridge in England, in addition to a medical degree from Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., according to the review.

Dr. Kalanithi's literary and philosophical background and his reality — one so distinctly finite — make for what promises to be a gripping account of the struggle to make decisions in the face of death, including those about having children, career opportunities and any long-term plans.

"I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," Dr. Kalanithi wrote, according to his website. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'"


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