'When Breath Becomes Air' (Hardback, The Bodley Head, ISBN: 9781847923677) is a book by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who died from lung cancer in 2015. Descriptively writing about the path he follows into medicine, he also looks for tangible experiences about life that he discovers in the unique relationship between doctor and patient, before exploring his thoughts on coming to terms with death when he finds out he has metastatic lung cancer.
Paul's writing just flows. I finished the book in a few hours spread across two days. He also published some articles about his illness prior to his death – there's one from the New York Times (2014) and a really heart-wrenching one on Stanford Medicine (2015), which includes some video footage that sort of sets you up for the book.
I think the worst part about the book (besides the Epilogue that describes Paul's last moments, written by his wife Lucy) is the fact you feel this guy is one of those doctors that set out with his heart in the right place because he realises that his patients are more than just names on a bit of paper and he goes out of his way for them (and his colleagues too), yet he's hit with such cruel cancer. It's a pretty depressing book, and it's a bittersweet one too that is so beautifully written. But there is a clear message in it about doing what is important to you, even when faced with terminal illness; that even with best made plans for the long-term future, some moments in life will require you (if not force your) to live on a day-by-day basis. After all, we're all going to die some day.
Available at Waterstones, Amazon, and other good bookshops. And just to carry on the mood, I'm following this one up with 'Gratitude' (Hardback, Picador, ISBN: 9781509822805), a set of essays written by a British neurologist Oliver Sacks before his death.