Kalanithi's early education was in literature, and in the course of the personal narrative he alludes to a great many works without elaborating on their content or meaning. Those works include Hamlet, Brave New World, The Count of Monte Cristo, Robinson Crusoe, Ivanhoe, The Prince, "To His Coy Mistress," Le Morte D'Arthur, Don Quixote, The Last of the Mohicans, The Waste Land, Satan, How We Die, and others. He includes epigraphs before each section, quoting from the Bible, T. S. Eliot's "Whispers of Immortality," and Montaigne's "That to Study Philosophy Is to Learn to Die." His wife Lucy also includes an epigraph to her epilogue, quoting a poem by Emily Dickinson.

Religio Medici by Thomas Browne. Religio Medici or The Religion of a Doctor was published in 1643 and written by Thomas Browne. It's a memoir in the form of a spiritual meditation on the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. It was written in two parts and included Browne's thoughts on the existence of hell, the resurrection, the Last Judgment, and other tenets of Protestantism. Both Verghese and Kalanithi allude to it—the latter to give the readers a taste of Kalanithi's style, Kalanithi in his recollection of the death of Shep Nuland, a former teacher of his. Upon her deathbed, Nuland quotes Browne: "With what strife and pains we come into the world we know not, but 'tis commonly no easy matter to get out of it." This insight convinces Kalanithi that he must "bear witness to the twinned mysteries of death."


Kalanithi's writing is rich and musical, and he makes frequent use of metaphor. In one, he writes of Lucy leaning her head on his shoulder, eliminating the physical and metaphorical distance between them. In another, he describes himself as a "prophet...

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