The blog of Bill Gates
gatesnotes
The blog of Bill Gates

This Book Left Me in Tears

Sign In
 
My Profile & Settings
Log out
GO
Your search for "", with selected filters, does not match any posts. Please try again with a different search term or reset filters.

Popular searches include: Books, Malaria, and Future of Food.
RELATED ARTICLES ON
Logout:


Become a Gates Notes Insider
- or - Sign up with email
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Send me updates from Bill Gates
Sign Up
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, subscribe to your favorite topics and more. We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
Account Settings
VIEW & EDIT PROFILE
Your Information
First name
Last name
Save
Cancel
Email address
This email is already registered
Save
Cancel
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Password
Save
Cancel
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
Your Interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Deactivate Account
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process. Deactivate account If you want to permanently delete your account and remove its content, please send us a request here.
Ok
Gates Notes Insider Sign Up FAQ

Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

A. There are three ways you can create a Gates Notes account:

  • Sign up with Facebook. We’ll never post to your Facebook account without your permission.
  • Sign up with Twitter. We’ll never post to your Twitter account without your permission.
  • Sign up with your email. Enter your email address during sign up. We’ll email you a link for verification.

Q. Will you ever post to my Facebook or Twitter accounts without my permission?

A. No, never.

Q. How do I sign up to receive email communications from my Gates Notes account?

A. In Account Settings, click the toggle switch next to “Send me updates from Bill Gates.”

Q. How will you use the Interests I select in Account Settings?

A. We will use them to choose the Suggested Reads that appear on your profile page.

Forgot your password?
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Reset Password
Change your header photo
your image
 
Change
your image
Uh Oh!

The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.

Ok
First name
Last name
Enter a first and last name. For example, "Richard Feynman"
Bio
0/160 characters
Edit Profile
Account Settings
Save
Cancel
Suggested Reads
Reset your password.
Set New Password
Your password has been reset. You will now be redirected to the sign in page, or you can click here
Ok
Get emails from Bill Gates
Send me updates from Bill
You must provide an email
This email is already registered
Continue
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Continue" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
 
your image
Uh Oh!
The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.
Ok
Welcome FirstName!
You are now a Gates Notes Insider
Update Your Profile Information
First name
Last name
Save
Cancel
Email address
This email is already registered
Save
Cancel
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
Select Your Interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Continue
Confirm
Are you sure you want to
deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will unsubscribe you from Gates Notes emails, and will remove your profile and account information from public view on the Gates Notes. Please allow for 24 hours for the deactivation to fully process. You can sign back in at any time to reactivate your account and restore its content.
Deactivate My Acccount
Go Back
Your Gates Notes account has been deactivated.
Come back anytime.
Welcome back
In order to unsubscribe you will need to sign-in to your Gates Notes Insider account
Once signed in just go to your Account Settings page and set your subscription options as desired.
Sign In
Request account deletion
We’re sorry to see you go. Your request may take a few days to process; we want to double check things before hitting the big red button. Requesting an account deletion will permanently remove all of your profile content. If you’ve changed your mind about deleting your account, you can always hit cancel and deactivate instead.
Submit
Cancel
Thank You! Your request has been sent
Become a Gates Notes Insider for access to exclusive content and personalized reading suggestions
Sign up to receive occasional updates from the Gates Notes
Sign Up
Privacy Policy
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
This verification token has expired.
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
Your account has been deactivated. Sign up to re-activate your account.
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
Fight back against mosquitoes
Visit the Mosquito Wars article to join our giveaway. Learn more
Fight back against mosquitoes
Become a Gates Notes Insider or sign in to join our giveaway and help stop the spread of malaria.Learn more
The blog of Bill Gates
This Book Left Me in Tears
 
Hello, . . My Profile & Settings
Log out
FOLLOW ME
It looks like you're using an older version of Internet Explorer which may not display all the features on this site. Upgrade Now » close
A Life of Meaning

This Book Left Me in Tears

All lives have equal value. But some deaths seem particularly cruel.

When Paul Kalanithi 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.

As if that wasn’t enough, he was also a great writer. Before attending medical school, he earned two degrees in English literature from Stanford and gave serious consideration to pursuing writing as a full-time career.

What a talent. What a loss.

I know about Kalanithi’s story because he told it himself in the posthumous When Breath Becomes Air. It’s an amazing book. I was super touched by it, as was Melinda and our daughter Jennifer. In fact, I can say this is the best nonfiction story I’ve read in a long time.

Thanks to this book, the reader gets to know well and like Kalanithi a lot. He brings you not just into his journey as a doctor and then as a patient but also into his role as a husband, which was sorely strained at times by the rigors of his and his wife’s clinical residencies. My emotional investment got particularly strong after Kalanithi and his wife, Lucy, decide to have a child despite (or maybe even because of) Kalanithi’s diagnosis. Kalanithi was there for the delivery, but he was so weak and chilled from chemotherapy that he wasn’t able to put his newborn daughter against his skin. Eight months later, Kalanithi died a few hundred yards away from where his daughter entered the world.

I’m usually not one for tear-jerkers about death and dying—I didn’t love The Last Lecture or Tuesdays with Morrie. But this book definitely earned my admiration—and tears.

I don’t know how anyone could read Lucy’s epilogue, in particular, without choking up. “I visit his grave often, taking a small bottle of Madeira, the wine of our honeymoon destination,” she writes. “Each time, I pour some out on the grass for Paul … and rub the grass as if it were Paul’s hair. Cady visits his grave before her nap, lying on a blanket … grabbing at the flowers we’ve laid down.”

But don’t be put off by the sadness of it all. I should emphasize the other things that drew me to this book.

For one thing, I thoroughly enjoyed Kalanithi’s stories about his surgical training. I’ve always admired doctors. They have to make impossibly hard decisions, and so much of their work has life-and-death implications. Kalanithi illustrates these high stakes well, without sounding like he has a God complex. One story that will stick with every parent who reads this book involves a young patient with a brain tumor. “The difference between tragedy and triumph was defined by one or two millimeters. One day, Matthew, … who had charmed the ward a few years back, was readmitted. His hypothalamus had … been slightly damaged during the operation to remove his tumor; the adorable eight-year-old was now a twelve-year-old monster.”

I was also drawn in by Kalanithi’s eloquent writing. I look up to all doctors, but the ones I’m impressed with most are the ones who are not just gifted healers but also writers. It’s always a shock to me when I find one, but by now it shouldn’t be. Kalanithi is part of a fraternity of amazing writer doctors, including Abraham Verghese (who wrote the foreword to Paul’s book), Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Atul Gawande. Perhaps I should consult a neuroscientist to figure out whether these seemingly disparate talents are somehow linked in the brain.

I am certain I will read When Breath Becomes Air again. This short book has so many layers of meaning and so many interesting juxtapositions—life and death, patient and doctor, son and father, work and family, faith and reason—I know I’ll pick up more insights the second time around.

I don’t know how Kalanithi found the physical strength to write this book while he was so debilitated by the disease and then potent chemotherapy. But I’m so glad he did. He spent his whole brief life searching for meaning in one way or another—through books, writing, medicine, surgery, and science. I’m grateful that, by reading this book, I got to witness a small part of that journey.

I just wish the journey hadn’t been cut so short.

Become a Gates Notes Insider for access to exclusive content and personalized reading suggestions

Read previous versions of the Annual Letter

Filed Under
Comments
posting ...
Please verify your email in order to make comments. Click here to resend verification email
Sorry, duplicate comments are not allowed. 
Sorry, that HTML is not allowed. 
Sorry, something went wrong. 
Be the first to leave a comment.
Comment Locked
Comments more than 3 months old are locked. For more information, contact us.
Delete Comment?
Deleting this comment will remove replies to this comment by you and others as well. This action cannot be undone.
Delete Comment
Why do you want to report this comment?
It's annoying or not interesting
It's abusive and/or vulgar
It's spam
Report Comment
Your report has been submitted.
Close
Save
Cancel