When Breath Becomes Air

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Score: 5 0 5
4,311 Ratings

When Breath Becomes Air Book Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon 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.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”USA Today

“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”Entertainment Weekly

“Split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed

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When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi & Abraham Verghese Reviews

  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By Karag8
  • Beautiful

    By Lucas727
    This book has left me speechless. The bravery and beauty exhibited by Dr. Kalanithi is inspiring beyond words. His family should be so proud that his legacy will live on timelessly in the writings of these pages. Really touched. - Cancer Survivor, Father of a Little Girl and a Regular, Fun-Loving Dude
  • A life well lived

    By ConnieBo
    A sad but incredibly uplifting book. One that will always have a place in my heart. I am blessed to have known this amazing man through his own words.
  • A book like no other

    By Rainbow gang
    I bought this book because I saw a review on Facebook by Bill Gates. Now that I've just finished it, with tears streaming down my face, I know I will never forget it. It's very scary to think about death but Paul's perspective, which he shares so openly and honestly, makes a huge impact on me. I feel like all physicians should read it so they may learn from his unique point of view. I suspect this is a book whose message will impact many lives.
  • Exceptional

    By kiki80.5.13
    One of the most honest, though-provoking yet heart-wrenching reads in a long time. Well written and captive; I couldn't put it down. You won't be disappointed.
  • Amazing!

    By ValllValll
    ending had me in tears
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By Dianataylor11
  • When breath becomes air.

    By Nanna1963
    Very touching story with great insight into ones personal struggles with medicine, life and ones own death. Coming from a doctors perspective gives this a new understanding to many questions one might have in the same situation. Thanks for the great read. I couldn't put it down.
  • Great read

    By Chibuckeye
    A very expressive statement regarding life.
  • When breath becomes air!

    By Myz Lynda
    One of the best books I have ever read! Reality hits you!

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