Dr. Lucy Kalanithi and Dr. Paul Kalanithi with their daughter, Elizabeth Acadia. Courtesy of Lucy Kalanithi
Bill Gates, who had this book on his recommended list, titled his review "This Book Left Me in Tears". Good title but it is a real look at real people and it really can bring you to tears.
The book is about Paul Kalanithi who received a masters degree in literature and was planning on a PHD at Stanford but he had been obsessed with the question of "what makes life worth living in the face of death? His father had been a doctor. He wanted to know “where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” He set aside his plans for literature and writing and went to medical school. He wanted to have relationships with the suffering, and felt that he could learn more about what makes human life meaningful.
When Paul was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2013, he was a 36-year-old on the verge of making big contributions to the world with his mind and hands. He was a gifted doctor—a chief resident in neurosurgery at Stanford just months away from completing the most grueling training of any clinical field. He was also a brilliant scientist. His postdoctoral research on gene therapy won him his field’s highest research award. He could have written a good book on any subject he chose".
As he was ending his residency he learned that he had stage 4 cancer and that he might have 5 to 10 years to live. He could return to neurosurgery or he could write? He did both. He and his wife then chose to have a baby that came eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis.
He said of his pending death that is was unsettling (a big understatement) but he added; “Yet there is no other way to live.”
Both this book and "The Heart" (see last review) are about death. This one is nonfiction, the other is a novel. Both are very well written and both have the potential to change your thinking. The beauty and wonder of the body is really revealed in these writings. Paul wanted to find what makes human life meaningful and I think the answer is in both of these books.