When Breath Becomes Air
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 making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, 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 young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, 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 mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

From the Hardcover edition.

When Breath Becomes Air Details

Book TitleWhen Breath Becomes Air
Book Author
FormatKindle Edition
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When Breath Becomes Air Reviews

  • Seemita
    Sep 26, 2016


    [Originally appeared here (with edits): http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...]It has been a few days since I turned the last page of this book. But the numbness reappears the instant I allow the pages to unfold in my memory. The silence which suddenly parts to let these memories see...

  • Larry Hoffer
    Sep 17, 2016

    Larry Hoffer

    Wow. I had to wait a little bit to pull myself together before writing a review of this exquisite book, even though I am tremendously late to the party on this one."...See what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words. In a worl...

  • Heidi Wiechert
    Sep 12, 2016

    Heidi Wiechert

    This is Paul Kalanithi's life story. He relates how he got into neuroscience, his exhausting and life consuming training, his illness, and his eventual transition out of this world into the next.At first, Paul didn't even want to become a surgeon because his own father was one and he s...

  • Maxwell
    Aug 28, 2016


    I don't think you should read this book because the story of an incredibly gifted man who had his life taken away at such a young age might give you the motivation to live life more fully. I think you should read this book because that talented, inspiring man has incredibly important t...

  • Perry
    Aug 20, 2016


    Memoir, Moving Message, a Morning GloryAs memorable as it is moving for not only the charm and impact of Dr. Paul Kalanithi's writing but his impressive might to complete the memoir's manuscript maugre the malignancy that ultimately ended his life before he could finish writing it. Tho...

  • Jill
    Aug 17, 2016


    Sometimes you don’t go out and find a book; the book finds you. Facing an impending loss without a foundation of faith to fall back on, I find myself asking, “What is the meaning of life if we’re all just going to die?”Paul Kalanithi answers that question in the mos...

  • Cathrine ☯
    Jul 25, 2016

    Cathrine ☯

    4 “Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way. But above all see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone by your words.” From the forward by Abraham Verghese.Paul Kalan...

  • Sabaa Tahir
    Jul 16, 2016

    Sabaa Tahir

    Never has a book turned me into a sad sobbing mess so quickly. Philosophical, beautiful, moving, difficult, heartbreaking. Highly, HIGHLY recommend. ...

  • Carol
    Jul 9, 2016


    "This book carries the urgency of racing against time, of having important things to say."I knew going in this would be a tough read for me, and it was, but aside from that, it is a touching, heartbreaking and most "powerful tale of living with death" knocking at your door.Paul Kalanit...

  • Amanda
    Jun 28, 2016


    When Breath Becomes Air is one of the most beautifully written, heartbreaking, and affecting memoirs I have ever read. Even though the book is incredibly sad, it is ultimately life affirming and worth the emotional investment.At the age of thirty-six, Paul Kalanthi, a doctor nearing th...