What makes a virtuous and meaningful life? Paul Kalanithi believed that the answer lay in medicine’s most demanding specialization, neurosurgery. Here are patients at their life’s most critical moment. Here he worked in the most critical place for human identity, the brain. What is it like to do that every day; and what happens when life is catastrophically interrupted?
This book is essentially a memoir written by someone with cancer. But to say it’s just a memoir devalues what this really is. This book is one person’s attempt to examine death – maybe even accept it. This book was written by a person who didn’t want to die, but like all of us, doesn’t get a choice in the matter. This is his attempt to help himself and others come to terms with their own mortality.
Paul Kalanithi was a writer who went on to become a doctor because he was fascinated with the brain. He wanted to discover where biology, philosophy and literature intersect. At the age of 36 just as he was to graduate medical school he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Suddenly he went from being the doctor to being a patient.
After his diagnosis Paul decided to continue his project, this book being the final result. However that’s part of the reason this book is so heartbreaking because Paul never managed to finish his book – his project. His final words are not some insight into death, but advice for his young daughter who he would never see grow up. In a way this book reminds me of that John Green quote. “You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence”.
You go into this book knowing Paul is going to die and if anything it makes you realise how unfair life truly is. Here is a person, a husband, a father, a scientist. Just about to graduate. At the top of his game. He could quite possibly have become one of the best neurosurgeons in the US. Struck down just as his life begins. There is nothing more unfair than that, and it’s what makes this book so beautiful and poignant.