Biography / Memoir

When Breath Becomes Air

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Summary:

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. 

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. 

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," he wrote. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'" “When Breath Becomes Air” is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This was a book that reminded me a lot of “The Opposite of Loneliness” where I was overly-aware that my perception of the book was influenced the knowledge that the author was going to die by the end.  That being said, I found this book incredibly poignant and a fantastic reminder of what are the most important things in life.  Thought you can’t live every day like it’s your last (contrary to the saying), the book is a good grounding in what is most important in life.

This was a book that I finished in three sit downs because despite my best intentions, it was one I couldn’t put down and I was desperate to know what happened.  While unsettling, it’s also fascinating to hear what other people do when they know that their time is soon to run out.  Though it left me in tears, it’s a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life!

Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air

Summary:

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for “Into Thin Air”, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This is a book that I had postponed reading because I have heard a lot of opinions from family and friends around me who are passionate fans of mountaineering.  If you look at the historical accounts, Krakauer is a little more contentious and I’m planning on reading Boukreev’s counterpart to the story soon.  (Note: I have heard his book is not quite as accessible to the casual reader.)  But this is all a side note, onto the review!

The things that is undeniable about Krakauer’s account is that it’s extremely compelling.  It’s fascinating storytelling and he does an amazing job introducing the topic of Everest with history, why people are drawn to the mountain and he himself ended up with the ill-fated climbers.  I was fascinated with the build up of the book just as much as the events that followed.  The tension portrayed through the final three days had me pausing to stop and take a walk around the room before going back to it.

One thing I found extremely annoying, however was the tendency to alternate between calling people by the last name and their first name.  It made it confusing when switching back and forth and meant that I made ample use of the first few pages that described each respective climbing party.  I would highly recommend reading this book, but if you enjoy it, also encourage you to check out some other accounts as well.

Warning: Contains repeated violence of people’s own choices as a side effect of dangerous climbing.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone with interest and enthusiasm into the type of climbing that happens on the top of the world.

Everything that Remains

Everything that Remains

Summary:

Twenty-something, suit-clad, and upwardly mobile, Joshua Fields Millburn thought he had everything anyone could ever want. Until he didn't anymore.

Blindsided by the loss of his mother and his marriage in the same month, Millburn started questioning every aspect of the life he had built for himself. Then, he accidentally discovered a lifestyle known as minimalism...and everything started to change.

In the pursuit of looking for something more substantial than compulsory consumption and the broken American Dream, Millburn jettisoned most of his material possessions and walked away from his six-figure career.

“Everything That Remains” is the touching, surprising story of what happened when one young man decided to let go of everything and begin living more deliberately. Heartrending, uplifting, and deeply personal, this engrossing memoir is peppered with insightful (and often hilarious) interruptions by Ryan Nicodemus, Millburn's best friend of twenty years.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

While this book was good, if you’re familiar with “The Minimalists” and have read many of their essays online you’ll find that this book is repetitive content.  If you’re new to the minimalism and are not so sure about it, this will be a fantastic book to introduce you to the concepts.

I had read much of the web content followed by “Minimalism: Life a Meaningful Life” and found it much more helpful in my life because I was looking for ways to apply minimalist concepts.  I can’t say that I dislike this book, because when I read the essays online this was revolutionary to me, but having recently gone back I found myself and skipping ahead since I had remembered the content.  That being said, I am probably going to send this book to people in my life that are confused or have questions about the concepts!

Rating: 3 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone interested in minimalism or learning how to do more with less.

Master of Alaska

Master of Alaska

Summary:

The detail and research that author Roger Seiler used – from biographies to actual letters and reports by the Governor Baranov himself - creates a riveting story.

“Master of Alaska” - a compelling Historical Fiction about the first governor of Alaska sent to the colony by Russia in 1790 – George Washington was President at the time. “Master of Alaska” starts in October 1790 when Aleksandr Baranov left his family in Russia and sails across the North Pacific to Kodiak to become the chief manager for Tsarina Catherine the Great’s colony in the far Northwest of North America. Baranov is shipwrecked, saved and adopted by the Aleut natives. Later he is forced to marry Anooka the daughter of the tribal chief, despite still having a wife back in Russia to save his men from starvation. Only slated to serve five years, Baranov spends the next 28 years in Alaska, surviving natural disasters, a massacre of his people at Sitka, meddling competing Russian authorities, a British attempt to undermine his colony and an assassination attempt. Interestingly, Baranov’s native wife and teenage daughter play an intricate role and contribute much to his success and survival in Alaska. Baranov built an empire and sought peace with the warring Tlingit, and thanks largely to his efforts Alaska is part of the U.S. today.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Please note: I received a free copy of this book courtesy of Sage’s Blog Tours and I voluntarily chose to write a review

Review:

This was as a 3.5 star book with some fantastic history naturally weaved throughout.  The early information I had about for Alaska was very sketchy and it was fascinating to get an in depth timeline without reading simple dry facts.  I liked that the arc was told through the experiences and challenges of Baranov although some times the events jumped from one to another fairly quickly.  One thing that is for sure is that life in Alaska wasn’t for everyone!  I have always wanted to visit and this makes me even more determined to make it up there.

One thing that I found a little distracting throughout the book was the very matter-of-fact dialogue throughout.  I couldn’t tell if this was something due to the translation of letters, a choice by the author or the form that the individuals naturally took.  It didn’t take away from the overall story, but did keep me from being completely absorbed in the story.

Warning: Contains some violence and sexual content.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Fans of history and true adventure.