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The brain surgeon’s memoir that Bill Gates says is worth crying over

Bill Gates Davos
AP Photo/Michel Euler
Tears, earned.
By Thu-Huong Ha
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Bill Gates is scrutinized for his investment decisions, reading habits, and tech predictions. One thing we don’t know too much about is what makes his heart flutter, or his eyes well up.

His book review for the bestselling When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi gives a glimpse of his soft side. On March 7, Gates published a blog post about the posthumous memoir, titled “This Book Left Me in Tears.”

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

Kalanithi was a promising neurosurgery resident in his late 30s when he was diagnosed with stage-IV lung cancer. He was also becoming a new father. Kalanithi died while working on his book about life, death, and medicine. Published early last year, it has spent 53 weeks on The New York Times bestsellers list.

In a passage about learning how doctors can be left to decide when to withdraw treatment for dying patients, he writes:

The twilight existence of unconscious metabolism becomes an unbearable burden, usually left to an institution, where the family, unable to attain closure, visits with increasing rarity, until the inevitable fatal bedsore or pneumonia sets in. Some insist on this life and embrace its possibility, eyes open. But many do not, or cannot, and the neurosurgeon must learn to adjudicate.

Gates is a compulsive reader, and his favorite books tend to be about science, tech, and business. He posts less frequently about feeling or fiction, which makes this post stand out.

“I was super touched by it, as was Melinda and our daughter Jennifer,” writes Gates of the memoir. “In fact, I can say this is the best nonfiction story I’ve read in a long time.”

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