Author: Paul Kalanithi
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Summary: This book was as beautiful, poignant, moving as everyone says.
This is one of the most moving, profound nonfiction books I’ve had the honor of reading. The fact that author Paul Kalanithi wrote this book while suffering from a cancer diagnosis he received at only 36 years old and that he passed away before publication adds a real poignancy to his memoir. The writing was truly beautiful. The author did an incredible job capturing the emotions and ethical quandaries of his job as neurosurgeon. The death of anyone so young will always come with a feeling of lost potential. Reading Paul’s memoir, it was hard not to mourn the compassionate doctor he would have been and long for the incredible medical memoirs he might have produced at the end of his career.
The author had clearly already done a lot of thinking about life, death, and what makes life worth living, even prior to his diagnosis. His insight, sharpened by the difficult decisions he had to make for his own treatment, challenged me to think about what matters in my own life. The author described several times in his life when reading got him through. He also included many quotes from books he loved that formed a powerful dialogue with his own thoughts on life and mortality. It was clear that reading meant a lot to him. When he very briefly mentioned that he was too exhausted to even consider reading during chemo, that small detail particularly struck me. I imagine reading was central to his self conception and that being unable to do so must have been a tough sacrifice to make for more time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this book made me feel weepy the whole time I was reading it. I’d recommend picking it up when you feel up to a book that will make you cry and that will also make you consider your own mortality. I hesitate to label this book or any other as one that will change my life. I won’t be doing anything different in my day-to-day because of reading this. However, it will stick with me and it’s certainly a book that shifted my thinking in subtle ways. I thought about the life from a new perspective while reading this book.
I know I had more I wanted to say about this book. I know I’m not doing it justice. All I can do is add my voice to the chorus, telling you this is beautiful, profound, moving. I certainly won’t be the first to be particularly recommend this to readers who loved The Emperor of All Maladies. The compassionate discussion of patients with frightening medical concerns was common to both. However, in a cover blurb, Ann Patchett also described this as a ‘universal donor’, a book she’d recommend to anyone. I feel the same way.