by Paul Kalanithi
“Paul’s death at such a young age was a tragedy. But his life wasn’t tragic.” This book is very special. I realize it’s not for everyone because the subject matter is very difficult… Death. And yet that’s exactly what makes this book so special and accessible.
The author, Paul Kalanathi, was a neurosurgeon who spent a large part of his life studying medicine. He felt that neurosurgery in particular was about the closest he could get to the convergence of medicine and morality. He was fascinated with the question of what makes a meaningful life. And he set out on a quest to answer that as a physician. Even before he studied medicine, he studied literature and philosophy and apparently was always fascinated by life, and death.
This book covers his time spent as a last year resident when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and became terminally ill. Paul approaches his diagnosis and ultimate death with integrity, intellectual curiosity, honesty, and dignity. And that is a huge gift to us, the readers. It’s very rare for us to get a glimpse into what it’s like to be dying. Death is something we will all experience at some point. It is the great equalizer. And yet most of us don’t know much about it. So this book is uncomfortable, fascinating, important and even comforting in some ways. It feels like Paul is experiencing death for us and reporting back to us. And I, for one, am glad he did.
What makes a life meaningful? The ability to savor books like this that make us feel, cry, learn, empathize and think. And then to take that knowledge and experience and let it change us for the better.