Dr. Lucy Kalanithi and Dr. Paul Kalanithi with their daughter, Elizabeth Acadia. Courtesy of Lucy Kalanithi
Bill Gates said "This Book Left Me in Tears" but then he included it on his recommended list.
The book is about Paul Kalanithi, who received a masters degree in literature and was planning on a PhD at Stanford, and his obsession with the question of "what makes life worth living in the face of death?
Paul's father had been a doctor but he started out getting his degree in literature but he set aside his initial plans to write and went on to medical school. He wanted to know “where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” He wanted to have relationships with the suffering, and felt that he could learn more about what makes human life meaningful as a doctor.
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, Lucy, then chose to have a baby that came eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. On July 4, 2014, Elizabeth Acadia “Cady” is born and Paul is filled with joy, even in his darkest hour. (see quote below *1)
He said of his pending death and the time he had left 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 review) are about death. This one is nonfiction, the other is a novel and both are very well written and 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.
*1 “Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?" she asked. "Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?"
"Wouldn't it be great if it did?" I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering.”
“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
“Life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.