A brain surgeon about to complete his training and begin a promising research career is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The book is essentially an extended essay on his life from shortly before the diagnosis until his death. He is faced with the fact that the career for which he labored endlessly will slip away, the fact that he will not be able to maintain his relationship with his wife, or the daughter they decided to have with full knowledge of his illness. He must shift from physician to patient, and hand his care over to others.
I’m not sure why the book became such a large success. I don’t feel that Kalanithi shed much additional light on end-of-life issues by virtue of being a physician. He perhaps had a better grasp of what his prognosis and treatment options were than your average person, but that didn’t provide him with any advantage in facing death and the horrible choices it brought—but maybe that’s the point.
It’s not that the book is poorly written or uninteresting, but it didn’t seem to evoke much feeling in me as a reader. I think The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy sheds more light on the issue, and is certainly more emotional.
It was interesting to watch a Google Talk by the author’s surviving wife, also a physician. I would recommend that people watch the talk before reading the book.
Ideas per Page:1 (3/10), low
Related Books: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, and How We Die by Sherwin B. Newland
Recommend to Others: No
Reread Personally: No
1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.